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|Thursday, December 18th, 2014|
So, yeah, that move I talked about?
It happened. My fears were unfounded: My new apartment has more than enough space, I had room in the two vehicles to move all my property in one timely trip (thank you, family), and I notified all major concerned parties in time.
The first five days have made for some pleasant living. I set my alarm an hour later now and easily arrive at work on time. The trip is short enough that I don't worry much about which coat to wear. I literally walk right past the Giant on the way home, and it's more gigantic than my previous one. The heating system keeps the apartment as I like it. And while I don't expect to meet any more neighborhood cats, I have found myself in elevators with nice dogs.
Any unpleasant surprises? Well, the main room may be both too bright and not bright enough. The giant window's blinds don't do a great job of keeping out the light pollution at night. (I had thought that one slat was missing, but it turns out they could be pulled shut further.) At the same time, part of the room is far from the nearest overhead light, and my desk lamp does only so much. The provided lights seem inconsistent in intensity as well, probably due to the bulb type. Other problems include little storage space in the bathroom (by no means an issue anywhere else in the apartment) and a questionable plethora of keys -- in short, nothing worth a complaint to the staff. I make do.
So far I've found two clear signs that I'm no longer in the District of Columbia: (1) I live on a higher floor than any allowed in DC, and (2) I can walk from home to a gun shop. Not to say I will. Current Mood: complacent
|Monday, November 24th, 2014|
|Book Review: Gravediggers: Terror Cove
You had best refer to my review of the first novel in the series
(or read the book itself) for starters. The three designated Gravediggers reappear in their alternating narration: athletic Ian, studious Kendra, and cinematically minded PJ. Only a few months have passed, so they're still all 11 or 12, but they have changed a bit: Ian craves adventure but has developed a nasty habit of freezing in the face of danger; Kendra faces emotional confusion in the wake of her parents' divorce; and PJ, no longer timid but also no longer fond of zombie movies or much of anything else, reminds me of my most curmudgeonly years. All three repeatedly feel like the most useless member of the group, which is almost funny all things considered.( PlotCollapse )
To call the book credible is a stretch, despite R.L. Stine's praise. Even accepting the vaguely defined magical premises left me thinking at times, "Would someone really do that?" or "Are these things really that slow/fast?" But just like its predecessor, it succeeds at immersion and thus intensity. That alone merits a tentative recommendation.
I have now started Robot Visions
. Since the collection includes many stories from I, Robot
, I can hardly guess how many pages I'll actually read herein.
|Thursday, November 20th, 2014|
For those who missed it before, I have a movie-themed blog, Watched and Learned
. For those who sampled it early on and didn't care to continue, I assure you that I've seen a greater variety of movies since Halloween. And my later reviews haven't been much like my first; I do more to avoid spoilers.
|Friday, November 7th, 2014|
I have been shamefully late in telling my LJ readers that I am moving to an apartment close to my office on December 13. It will be my first non-college address outside DC, albeit a short walk from the DC border.
You may recall how I wanted to move in part because a long subway ride would get expensive. Well, my parents persuaded me that I could afford to spend a bit more than the equivalent of my current rent plus two subway rides every workday. My new budget gave me more promising options, and I decided on something about 15 minutes' walk from my office, half a block from the subway and bus stops, and not even that distance from a large supermarket.
I spent a while fretting that I would forget to do something important in the process of moving. Now that I have a written list, it doesn't bother me as much. Instead, I'm fretting that I may have chosen the wrong apartment. First, I didn't actually visit the one in question, just a similar but slightly larger and differently shaped one; floor plans had to help my imagination along. Second, I might have underestimated how much space I need. I hadn't thought of a dinner table, for example. Mom keeps telling me I have so little stuff, but I'd say it does a pretty handy job of filling my current space. Third, I may have been too hasty in my comparison to a nearby competitor apartment, which feels less like a hotel room and more like a one-story house.
Still, it's bound not to have some of the drawbacks to my current residence. It's on a high floor and less open to the outdoors, with readier temperature adjustment, so I'll be warmer in the winter and have fewer bug invasions the rest of the year, and no one outside could look thru my window. The kitchen includes a full-size fridge and a full-fledged oven. The complex seems to have a better reputation than others in my geographic and price range.
That leaves the time to steel myself for shifting a lot of objects in a short time. Think I'll bring some more to my office and discard more of what I'll probably never use (again).
|Friday, October 31st, 2014|
Today, for the first time since I bought the mask in my icon in 2006, I wore it for Halloween, along with a pair of black gloves. Specifically to a pizza lunch at the office, where we voted for the best costumes in three categories. I almost didn't get listed, since I had the mask off for eating -- not that I stood a chance in any category. Didn't bring a tail or anything to disguise the rest of my head. I wasn't even clear on whether I came as a plain red fox, Fantastic Mr. Fox, a furry convention attendee, a Venetian carnival attendee, a kitsune, or an extra in an Ylvis music video (somebody did ask what I say).
At least everyone I voted for won. Scariest was a similarly minimalist Jason Voorhees, whom I persuaded to try Michael Myers next year. The best look-alike was a friend of mine as Blankman, whom I probably remember better than most co-workers (he brought a DVD case for reference). Most creative was another friend as "the ocean." She's still wearing a squeaky plush otter on her head at the computer as I type. We also had a mouse and a rabbit, as if to taunt my fox.
I think I'll wear my mask on the bus after work, partly so it doesn't get damaged in my bag. I will have to be alert, tho, since it limits my vision.
|Thursday, October 30th, 2014|
|Book Review: The Dante Club
My mom gave me this book some years ago, along with her old copy of John Ciardi's translation of The Inferno
, because she thought I might need a refresher course. I didn't; after 14-15 years, I could remember every punishment for every sin in chronological order, which was more than I needed.( SynopsisCollapse )The Dante Club
doesn't feel like a first novel. Pearl did plenty of research, spelled out in detail in the back; I felt that I learned many things, even if a few terms are tricky to look up ("fussock," not "fossock"). He makes no blatant rookie writing mistakes. And he defied my worries that the stuffily old-fashioned academic setting would make it boring or that the premise would turn unenjoyable like an extended Se7en
. (It helps that the victims are less innocent herein.)
The book also includes the first chapter of Pearl's Poe's Shadow
, set a bit earlier in Baltimore. I expect to read that someday. Incidentally, I heard last night that my dad, who grew up in Baltimore, never read a full poem or story by Poe. I set out an anthology from school so we can read it together in between trick-or-treaters tomorrow.
In the meantime, maybe it's my Halloween mood, but I picked up the second entry in the Gravediggers series, Terror Cove
. One thing's for sure: The heroes will need a different tactic from last time.
|Friday, October 24th, 2014|
|Something must change
( Bus bluesCollapse )
So why don't I revert to the relatively comfy and reliable subway on a regular basis? Mainly because it costs more than twice as much to go where I need and saves little if any time with a circuitous 14 stops. An extra $2 per ride will add up fast.
And forget about driving. I have more reasons not to own a car than I care to list.
After nearly 7 years in the same house, I'm finally taking seriously Mom's suggestion to look into an apartment in walking distance of my office. It'll be a pain to move, but that pain will pass. Current Mood: annoyed
|Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014|
At my mom's suggestion, I have started a third blog
, this one specifically for my thoughts on movies. Expect updates about twice a week on average, in keeping with my viewing rate. The blog is a bit of a work in progress as I navigate Blogger for the first time.
I have to say, as unpopular as LiveJournal is nowadays, it's still my favorite platform.
|Friday, September 19th, 2014|
I used to dislike Talk Like a Pirate Day, until I realized it didn't have to be about just hackneyed talking. Some of you have seen me quote particular movie pirates in years past. For a more concrete example, Krispy Kreme today offered a free donut to anyone talking like a pirate and a free dozen to anyone dressed like one. (A certain co-worker might just have done that.)
For a short time, I lamented that I no longer work in walking distance of a Krispy Kreme, even tho I never gave them much business when I did. Then I remembered that my new office is just a few doors down from Piratz Tavern! Why pine for junk food of low repute when I could get dinner in a piratical environment?
To my slight surprise, the menu is less surf than turf. I guess they thought pirate = macho = meat = not fish. My meal was about par for restaurants in the area, but I had the added pleasure of costumed wait staff (who didn't react when I said things like "I be needin' a table for one") and interesting music I never hear anywhere else.
And the designated "grog." I never knew it could be so strong and yet so tasty. My waiter identified it as "rum, rum, rum, lime and ginger beer." I don't think it had a visible effect on my behavior, but walking out did feel a bit like walking on a ship at sea. This must be the closest thing to a drunk post I've ever made (a low bar, no pun intended).
Now if you'll excuse me, I plan to play The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker
tonight, at least until the pirates reappear. Current Mood: dorky
|Saturday, September 6th, 2014|
|Book Review: Ringworld
To think there was once a time I could confuse this title with Discworld
. They have little in common besides fantasy (in a broad sense that includes sci-fi) and an author whose first name rhymes with "airy." Larry Niven feels less like Terry Pratchett than a combination of Robert Heinlein and Arthur C. Clarke, for better and worse.( Hard to summarize without spoilingCollapse )( More on the charactersCollapse )( More philosophy and pseudoscienceCollapse )
, for recommending the book. I don't find it life-changing the way you did, and I doubt I'll read another in the series, but it kept me entertained.
I'm all sci-fied out in the literary realm. I'll take a break with Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club
, a murder mystery featuring real 19th-century figures like Henry Wadsworth Longfellow as detectives. The time seems ripe, since I also recently read "The Courtship of Miles Standish" just to see what my mom had to read in school (flowery but hard to absorb).
|Saturday, July 12th, 2014|
After watching Quo Vadis
(1951), I noticed something about the Netflix jacket description, which mirrors the Netflix site description:Mervyn LeRoy's Hollywood epic recounts the sweeping saga of star-crossed lovers General Marcus Vinicius (Robert Taylor) and Lygia (Deborah Kerr). The smitten Marcus pursues Lygia, but to no avail. At the behest of Nero (Peter Ustinov), Lygia is given to Marcus, who makes it his mission to prove to her that his intentions are pure and true. But just as it seems love will prevail, Nero's atrocities threaten to destroy them and Rome forever.
That's all accurate enough as it goes, but if you have ever read the Henryk Sienkiewicz novel, seen any of the movies based on it, or even known the origin of the title, you know that it's omitting a big aspect of the film: Christianity. Lygia's devotion to the new cult drives a wedge between her and Marcus, until he comes to her defense when Nero ups the religious persecution. Peter and Paul appear as significant supporting characters, the former even experiencing a miracle in the course of the story. That's putting aside the brief New Testament synopsis at the beginning, which got me thinking of QV as a sort of spiritual (heh) successor to Ben-Hur
-- except that QV came earlier, both in the '50s and in the silent era.
Out of curiosity, I looked up the Netflix description of Ben-Hur
(1959):Charlton Heston plays Judah Ben-Hur, a proud Jew who runs afoul of ambitious boyhood friend Messala (Stephen Boyd) in this 1959 epic that boasts an unforgettable chariot race and earned 11 Oscars, including Best Picture, Best Actor (Heston) and Best Director (William Wyler). Condemned to life as a slave, Judah swears vengeance against Messala and escapes, later crossing paths with a gentle prophet named Jesus.
Ah, so they do mention Jesus, if somewhat subtly. That's fair; he's not the focus of the film for very long. But what about its 1925 predecessor?Ben-Hur: The Silent Version
Before William Wyler's grand epic, this 1925 silent version of Ben-Hur stunned audiences with lavish sets and a spectacular chariot race. An orchestral score from acclaimed Hollywood composer Carl Davis is added to this version of Fred Niblo's film. The picture went on to become the third-highest-grossing silent film of all time. Ramon Novarro stars as Judah Ben-Hur, Francis X. Bushman plays Messala, and May McAvoy takes on the role of Esther.
Wow. They didn't even use the proper title of Ben-Hur: A Tale of the Christ
At this point, I have to assume that at least one Netflix writer likes to downplay Christian elements when feasible. It makes a certain sense from a commercial standpoint: You don't want to scare away non-Christian customers with the likelihood of a Sunday school lesson. But it also means that customers who want one may not know to check it out.
Besides, I've become well aware of the dilemma of censoring ads for controversial material. Remember when Zack and Miri Make a Porno
was advertised as just Zack and Miri
? Sure, it meant that kids wouldn't look in the paper and ask what a porno was, but I worried that some ignorant parents would take their kids to the movie and learn the hard way. Similarly, when Computer Gaming World
received complaints for a cover that showed a character from Enter the Matrix
chasing another with a gun, I thought, "Can't you appreciate a relatively mild warning?"
And in case you, my readers, feel turned off from QV because of the Christianity, know that director Mervyn LeRoy self-identified as Jewish. He took the job because it's a great story, and in the wake of WWII, it was easy for the audience to draw parallels between one religious persecution and another. You may avoid QV for another reason, such as a nearly 3-hour run time; you may wish it had been done differently, as by casting some of the bigger stars the studio considered (tho Ustinov would be hard to top); but I recommend it to anyone who agrees that epic films used to excel at everything instead of mainly just special effects. QV was a critical darling and box office success, paving the way for all other sword-and-sandals hits of the '50s and early '60s.
...Heck, that wouldn't have been a bad thing for Netflix to mention either.
|Wednesday, June 25th, 2014|
|Book Review: Barrayar
OK, I underestimated its length due to slim paper (in a deteriorating old paperback), but even nearly 400 pages don't feel so bad after The Satanic Verses
. And yes, they go faster.
In order of publication, this is the seventh novel in Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan series; in order of fictional events, it's the third. Either way you look at it, I would've liked to start with another. I always understood what was happening, but it often alluded to a rich-sounding history, not least for the way protagonist Cordelia married her defeated military opponent, Aral Vorkosigan. Oh well, I'll just put earlier volumes on my list.( Short summary, no spoilersCollapse )
If one thing stands out about Barrayar
, it's the protagonist's pregnancy. Few books I've read let that happen at all, and never from the start of the volume or for nearly so many pages. Hers isn't the only pregnancy either. As you can imagine, the tension runs ever higher. And yes, the story passes the Bechdel test -- barely, as the women can hardly escape the social pressures of men and thus have little else to discuss.
Bujold writes characters strongly enough for both genders. My personal favorites are Cordelia's wounded bodyguard and his female replacement, whom he initially resents. Their subplot gets a pretty complicated yet highly credible emotional treatment, reinforcing my notion that one can apply a few lessons from the reading to reality.
I'll hold off on my next Bujold entry. For now, I've started something my mom bought on a whim in Spain, Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal
. That's right: For the first time, I'm reading a whole book in Spanish, albeit one I read in English about 15 years ago. Good thing it doesn't bother conveying thick accents like Hagrid's.
|Tuesday, June 24th, 2014|
Imagine my surprise a month ago when I went to Indeed.com and saw an ad for a proofreader position at my current company
. On closer inspection, it was Palladian Partners, a relatively new acquisition of Altarum Institute. That would explain why my supervisor, who has strongly supported my quest for full-time employment, hadn't heard about the opportunity.
Be that as it may, my references were thus easy contacts for all concerned. Before long, I had a series of interviews and a multi-part proofreading test on site. Today, two weeks later, I got an email asking me to call the Palladian correspondent. I surmised that she would not make this request if my application were rejected. Sure enough, she said I performed excellently on the test and could start as soon as July 1. (No need for two weeks' notice within the same parent company.)
Several things will remain the same: my ID number, my hourly pay, even the people asking me for edits sometimes. The biggest difference that I foresee is in location. Palladian is another 11 subway stops away -- possibly shorter and cheaper by bus, but I like the mode of transportation that least requires my attention. And my "work spouse" and I will miss our direct contact.
Still a small price to pay for not losing money or relying on welfare. I smiled all thru the phone call.
|Saturday, June 14th, 2014|
Disney has announced plans for "The Lion Guard," a TV series following on The Lion King
. This is as good a time as any for me to say that my feelings on TLK today are the same as they were 20 years ago: very mixed.( Surprised?Collapse )
I'm not above watching kid shows nowadays, but no matter how popular TLG gets, I won't bother. TLK gave me my fill.
|Friday, May 30th, 2014|
|Book Review: The Satanic Verses
Man, it took me more than two months to finish this. Even at 561 pages, that's pretty bad for me. I blame it partly on inconsistent interest and partly on difficult reading. Those who have known Salman Rushdie only from children's books should prepare for a severe departure: Not only does it include sex and swearing, but I haven't had this much trouble following along since 11th grade, when I had to read William Faulkner's Absalom, Absalom!
. The poetic flair (read: unorthodox grammar and coinages) in almost every paragraph may help keep it interesting, but it also slowed me down and quickly lost any humorous appeal. I soon stopped bothering to look up words from Indian languages.( More detailsCollapse )
In truth, my difficulty in comprehension had less to do with what
happened than why
. I think that's why I decided to slog to the finish: I kept getting curious where Rushdie was going with such a strange mix of arcs and events. Even now, it's not spite of spoilers that keeps my summary short so much as uncertainty of which developments really matter. It'll be quite a while before I feel like giving the author another try on an adult novel.
Next up is a birthday present from last week, Barrayar
by Lois McMaster Bujold, my introduction to the Vorkosigan series. I figure that a shortish sci-fi not known for controversy promises a breath of fresh air.
|Tuesday, May 6th, 2014|
Two weeks ago, a correspondent at Hanover Research reminded me that I had signed a 3-month contract that technically expired on April 14. She did not know when the higher-ups would decide whether to keep me on, but I would continue to be paid and receive assignments for the time being. I appreciated the warning but pretty much pushed it from my mind; there seemed no point in worrying.
This morning I learned the verdict by phone: negative. From the sound of it, the problem wasn't my performance exactly but the inconvenience of the whole part-time, offsite arrangement (they had gotten extended deadlines for me repeatedly). I suppose I would've had more job security if I changed one or both of those factors, but it's a long commute and I'd hate to do that kind of work 40 hours a week in any setting. Minutes before the call, in fact, I was cringing at one of the more annoying moments of the job and telling myself it wouldn't be long before lunch.
That does reduce my dismay at the lack of contract renewal, but who knows? I may have to accept a less likable job yet. Certainly the kind I've enjoyed has suffered low availability in this market. In the meantime, I'll find out whether I'm more relieved at my less busy schedule or more tired of the Department of Employment Services and all those job search sites -- whose bookmarks I had the foresight to save all along.
It helps a little that today isn't my last day of paid work for Hanover. I get to continue thru Friday, after which I have to return the laptop. It's not a bad laptop, but thankfully I never developed a fondness for it.
It also helps that I still have my better, if slightly lower-paying, job at Altarum Institute. While I took my total layoff last May rather well, I had more cause to fret then. Lately my supervisor has thought that I might have a chance at a temporary return to full-time Altarum employment if not for my Hanover employment; maybe that'll happen.
The other factor that helps is that, as an offsite worker, I don't get escorted off the premises right after hearing the news. Oh, and having been a contractor may simplify transitions somewhat: It's not like Hanover was deducting any pay for insurance.
Whatever happens, I refuse to despair. It doesn't become me.Incidentally, a "Safe Havens" character also learned today that his contract won't be renewed.
|Sunday, May 4th, 2014|
|Racism or Prizism?
In the latest Entertainment Weekly
, Mark Harris has a column
complaining about how rare it is for even vastly praised Black actresses (or maybe Black actors in general; he doesn't put much emphasis on gender) to get good movie roles. It's not a bad article, yet I'm not convinced that the examples he gives stem mainly from the source he believes.
I don't deny that show business is a bastion of ongoing racism and sexism, subtle or otherwise. After all, you can legitimately turn down actors just for the way they look, regardless of skills. Even with modern technology, cosmetic procedures, and high budgets, no sane casting director will consider, say, Lupita Nyong'o and Daniel Day-Lewis for the same part, whatever that may be. And it's almost inevitable that minorities will be less in demand.
But Nyong'o, the primary focus of Harris's article, has more standing in the way than her dark skin and exotic name. There's the Oscar curse -- or rather an
Oscar curse, since the term gets applied to more than one phenomenon. I'm talking about how actors who win Academy Awards when they weren't previously all that famous have trouble landing good roles afterward. It's not just a superstition or an arbitrary long-time statistical pattern; it happens because companies have a hard time seeing those actors in any roles unlike what they won for. There weren't many masters of ceremonies for Joel Grey after Cabaret
; Louise Fletcher couldn't keep playing harsh nurses after One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
; and Jean Dujardin, for all his popularity in early 2012, never takes center stage anymore and thus remains largely silent on screen. The curse doesn't always strike (I doubt Day-Lewis was a household name before My Left Foot
), but it strikes often enough that I fully expected the difficulties of both Dujardin and Nyong'o. And had Quvenzhané Wallis won in her single digits for Beasts of the Southern Wild
, she'd be on her way to the next Tatum O'Neal.
Harris also mentions Viola Davis and Halle Berry as undersupported Black actresses. Well, I for one could not have placed Davis before The Help
(I'd seen her only in bit parts), so the Oscar curse may well have hit her too. Berry seems to be another story: Harris notes that she made bad choices but has been given less of a chance to recover than White actors. That puts aside how many embarrassments Eddie Murphy made before garnering an Oscar nomination for Dreamgirls
. I suspect it's largely a matter of overall history.
On the other hand, Harris sees more progress in the realm of TV. At least, that's what he implies, providing only "Scandal" and an upcoming CBS drama (which he doesn't name, but IMDb lists "Extant") as examples. I am vaguely aware of subcultural differences between TV and movies, but let me know when you come up with more evidence. Perhaps it simply takes more than a one-page article to present a compelling case on the matter.
|Thursday, May 1st, 2014|
I seem to feel hungrier than usual in the last week. At least, I want to keep eating after I've had my usual amount. I'm not burning more calories, I'm not bored (my main reason for snacking in my teen years), and I don't notice any other potential signs of illness. If I crave a particular nutrient, I haven't figured out which, but the only food group I don't eat much is meat, so maybe I should start there.
Heck, maybe I always kinda feel like this and have only begun to notice. Current Mood: confused
|Sunday, April 6th, 2014|
I wish to apologize for the gaucheness of my last LJ entry. While I knew it would be controversial, I honestly meant no offense to anyone (and apparently guessed wrongly which side was more likely to take offense). I might take it down, but I'll leave it up for now with this post as a warning.
These thoughts had been stewing in my head for quite a while, itching for a good place to come forth. I chose LJ because it's relatively sparse these days yet still fairly diverse in opinions. In retrospect, if I had to say it at all, I should've waited for a time that I was less tired. Or perhaps I should've done it earlier, when the subject was more timely.
What gave me the temerity to dispense advice to a big group with whom I had no appreciable connection? Well, it comes from hanging around both left- and right-wing circles, seemingly more than anyone else I know. It makes me want to be a liaison, facilitating communication between people on such different wavelengths that they're often too hostile to start. And unlike some, I don't believe in giving up on reaching certain people. Now, I don't kid myself that the people whom I appear to address will ever read my LJ in large numbers. I intended to plant the seed of the idea and let the word get around, little by little. If nothing else, I figured I'd be providing food for thought.
Unfortunately, I've always been a bit tone deaf with regard to social skills, so of course I'm no pro liaison. In my sleepy haste to get it all down, I painted in overly broad strokes and left some distinctions unclear, thereby paving the way for easy perception of wrongful insinuations about certain groups in general. It made me look bigoted as well as arrogant.
On top of that, it goes against my long-time personal policy against getting political on LJ. (The Martin-Zimmerman post doesn't really count.) I assure you all that I will not make that mistake again. My efforts to sound reasonable all around are too shaky. Current Mood: stressed
|Saturday, April 5th, 2014|
I have some advice for activists in favor of LGBT benefits. I don’t expect many to heed my advice, as I’m nobody special to them and they’re already doing pretty well nowadays. But sticking with the same tactics all the time will take you only so far. So here goes:
Shift your analogy focus from race to religion.( Why not race?Collapse )( Why religion?Collapse )
Honestly, I think you’ll gain more recruits for the cause by likening LGBT folk to members of various religions. It’s the closest analogy to come to my mind.
That said, you may notice that it comes with further implications for what you must not do. I’m thinking now of the more aggressive side of the movement. If you declare yourself a Jew, you do not get to complain to a supervisor that a co-worker kept quiet and didn’t congratulate you on your Judaism. You do not get to encourage public school students to think about converting to Judaism. (I realize there is no LGBT equivalent of Hebrew school, but give it time.) And if you badmouth Blacks because they’re statistically less likely to have a favorable opinion of Jews, then you’re way out of line.
I know I have readers on opposite ends of the spectrum, and I try to stay on good terms with all. For those who are displeased to see me dispensing what I deem good advice to their opponents, look at it this way: Wouldn’t you feel better with a smarter class of opposition?