Tuesday, December 21, 2004


Maybe not so bad.

No secret that I think talk radio hosts are crazy. But at least they're not this crazy.

Warning: link contains THINGS THAT DON'T MAKE SENSE BUT ARE WRITTEN IN ALL CAPS. I will pay $5 to anyone who reads the entire page at one sitting without having their head explode).

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So I was listening to talk radio on my way from one office to the next. This would have been at about 10 pacific time, which means, although I didn't listen to enough to hear a station ID, that it should have been the Rush Limbaugh show. Didn't sound like him, maybe a stand-in. So: the host was talking about what a tragedy it was that the Marines were disciplining the guy who got caught on film shooting a wounded Iraqi. I don't want to get into the details of *that* issue, just wanted to relate this pretty incredible exchange, quoted as well as I can remember it:

"If Senator John Kerry gets a Silver Star for shooting an unarmed Viet Cong suspect in the back, while he was running away, then this guy should get a Silver Star, too."

I turned off the radio in disgust. But really, is that the accepted narrative of Kerry's Silver Star on right wing talk radio? I don't listen to it enough to have any idea; have you heard the incident where he chased down a VC who was moving out to be able to fire his RPG at Kerry's boat described this way before? An "unarmed Viet Cong suspect?" That makes me physically ill.

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Thursday, December 16, 2004



Sorry I haven't posted in a while. Want to help me find the man in black? Start here:
and go here, too
If this is too much of a big, giant, time consumer for you (it is for me...) try this one:

I've gotten ten of the movie titles so far.


Update: Now I have 22 of the movie titles and a headache trying to think of the others. If you can figure out "C," "U," "V," or"Y," you're my hero. Didn't you guys all do college bowl or something like that?

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Monday, December 13, 2004


Peterson Transcript

As I presume everyone knows, the jury has recommended death for Scott Peterson. [-ed DEATH!! No grandpa, that's the cat...]

What you may not know is Xrlq has discovered some good news for Scott.

While Xrlq takes an insurance angle, I figured the good news would be more in line with Peterson being able to choose the manner of his own death perhaps like Arthur Jarrett (not work safe) of Meaning of Life fame.


"Faithless" Elector

In Minnesota, one of the electors apparently voted for John Edwards for President instead of John Kerry. (link h/t Captain's Quarters) (Note: site requires lengthy registration process. Feel free to use the following login and password - login: polyscifi password: polyscifi)

Oh, it apparently wasn't a political statement - that might even be kinda cool (even though that would've been my guy getting screwed). However, chalk this faithless elector up to incompetence...

No one claimed credit for the Edwards vote. Several electors said they suspected that someone unconsciously mixed up the two Johns on the ticket rather than purposefully made a political statement.

``If it was meant to be a protest-type vote I would be upfront and say `This is how I voted,' said elector Frank Simon of Chaska. ``It doesn't seem like anyone is coming forth to say that.''

Oh, the jokes that could be had at the expense of the Democratic party in Minnesota...
Of course the ballot design and the choice of electors had something to do with it... Or maybe we should just rethink that whole stupid party/evil party divide.

Anyways add your own jibe at Minnesota, the Dem party, the dumbass elector or whatever else you think is appropriate in the comments and we'll have a contest of sorts with some sort of prize (somehow the traditional polyscifi prize seems dated, so I'll come up with something new).

And we'll even announce the winner next week! (nudge nudge Thason)

I hadn't noticed this part. Life certainly is funny...
One of the 10 handwritten ballots cast for president carried the name of vice presidential candidate John Edwards (actually spelled "Ewards" on the ballot) rather than Kerry.
So technically, the vote isn't even for John Edwards...


Friday, December 10, 2004


Labor Theory of Value

I've never been a big fan of Marx's labor theory of value - the value of a good or service is the the amount of labor that goes into making it. While the theory is flawed as it consciously ignores capital contributions, it also ignores other important factors such as the knowledge and talent required to manufacture a product (or service).

That's the point of the story that coyote relates in this post. (h/t Carnival of the Capitalists as hosted by the Entrepreneurial Mind). In the story, coyote offers a socialist friend of his all the sand she could want if she could make a computer. When she balks because she lacks the capital, he then offers her all the capital she could need, but again she balks because she doesn't know how. This allows coyote to demonstrate that the value of the mind is not being included in Marx's labor theory of value.

However, I have a different example that I like to bring up whenever I encounter a person who subscribes to the labor theory of value. I propose to them that the person perform an hour's worth of work (a service) of my choosing (perhaps yard work, perhaps cooking). In exchange I will give them a good that would take me an hour to create. According to the labor theory of value, that's a fair trade.

I then inform that person that I've been constipated for days and it's been taking me about an hour to crap. The result of this hour's worth of hard labor would be the good that I am willing to exchange. For some reason, the other person has always immediately abandoned the labor theory of value.


Jody Jr never had a chance

I work (and blog) almost exclusively on a laptop. Which is why the news that regular laptop use kills sperm caught my eye. It's been relatively common knowledge that heightened temperatures were bad for your swimmers. And anyone who has ever worked with a laptop knows they can get pretty hot, and you definitely notice the excess heat on your scrotum that comes from a laptop.

So for the last several years, my almost continuous laptop usage has probably significantly lowered my sperm count. While I wasn't married, that was probably a good thing.

However, now that I am married, I gotta look out for my boys down there. Fortunately, I had put 2 and 2 together a before reading the article, so I got a bed desk a few weeks back (actually was on the wedding registry).

Now maybe in a couple years, Jody Jr will have a fighting chance (actually a first born son would be named James Pillaipakkam Neel or J.P. for short per family tradition) .

Side note: They say that in order to be in a more relaxed frame of mind for a date you should engage in a little onanism ahead of time (this was the premise of the "hair gel" scene from There's Something About Mary). So if you've got a laptop, it can "pull" double duty - it can provide onanistic inspiration (NOT WORK SAFE) and possibly limit the chance of an unwanted pregnancy later...


Paper birds are not the answer

While we can debate whether or not war is the answer (I think it depends on the question - Iraq yes, Canada no), I think we can all agree that a massive air drop of paper peace birds is most definitely not the answer. (h/t Jim Robbins in the Corner)

Unless the question is "What would happen if Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra thinks he's really Sadako?"

A personal note: our trivia group once sat in the Roanoke Hooter's and folded paper cranes out of napkins. We weren't trying to stop a war or cure leukimia; we were trying to amuse ourselves and the waitress and possibly get laid. But we had about as much chance of succeeding at that as Shinawatra had with his paper cranes.


Tek Tow

While almost everyone in Blacksburg has a Tek Tow (or Valley Towing as they're called now) horror story, a common denominator to these stories is the high fees Tek Tow charges. Typically Tek Tow will charge you around $100 to get your car back. However, it doesn't have to be this way.

In Tempe, I ran across the following sign which spells out the rates that a local towing company will charge you should you violate Burger King's parking lot rules.

In Blacksburg (which is only a few miles across), this sort of fee structure would work out to around $40-$50 - about the price of a ticket for parking illegally. In general I think this is a fair amount - pay the towing company whatever the fine would've been plus whatever holding fees there may be if your car stays on their lot for more than a day.

Relating my own Tek Tow story (well, at least one of them), a couple years ago my Lumina died (transmission) a slow and painful death - conking out for good in a parking lot near my wife's then-apartment. I started going through the process of donating my car to the Kidney Foundation, called them and filled out the forms. Before I mailed off the forms, I swung by to check on my car only to discover that it was gone.

Immediately, I knew Tek Tow had it (the car couldn't get out of neutral), so I called them up. They asked me when I would like to schedule an appointment to pick up my car, and I replied that I would rather schedule an appointment to sign over the title. So I ended up paying my towing bill with the title to my car (and $20 - considerably less than the $140 they wanted).


An answer to an important question

What is the flight speed of an unladen swallow? (For fun, here's the entire script to Holy Grail).

Well, Jonathan Corum had done an analysis and the answer seems to be 24 miles per hour for an European Swallow (Hirundo rustica). Graham Taylor, however, seems to think the number should be 20 miles per hour.

Also for fun here's a sound clip imitating the discussion that would've happened if the Knights of the Round Table had been aware of Corum's work.


French bashing

I couldn't pass up linking to Jeremy's collection of French taunting quotes. However, he missed an important one.

"Bonjoouurr, ye cheese-eating surrender monkeys."
-Groundskeeper Willie


Saturday, December 04, 2004


Go Vols!

No, this isn't Jody. It's your old pal, Thason Jweatt

As part of my annual plan for BCS madness, I will indeed be rooting for Tennessee to beat Auburn. Among other things, it might give the members of the Blacksburg contingent of PolySciFi Blog a real excuse to all make a road trip to the same place.

Rocky Top! Or whatever. I'm kind of new at this...


Friday, December 03, 2004


Craig bleeping James

Sometimes my memory does fail me. In those situations, my mind tends to construct details that may not have any resemblance to reality or history. That may be the case here, but at least it doesn't happen because of drugs.

In any event, I remember not liking Craig James when he did ESPN College Gameday. I remember not liking Craig James when he worked for ABC. He's not doing much to work his way onto my Christmas Card list, appearances aside.

This all started back in August, when he wrote this: (Editor's note. The contents have been redacted. For the most part, I am posting the ranking and removing the team-by-team commentary. You can see the original here.)

Here's how I rank the [Atlantic Coast] conference as the teams get ready for the season:

1. Miami Hurricanes
2. Florida State Seminoles
You could pretty much shuffle the next four schools and not be wrong with the order. Virginia, Clemson, Maryland and North Carolina State are all about the same. I won't straddle the fence and will put them in my expected order of finish.

3. Virginia Cavaliers
4. Clemson Tigers
5. Maryland Terrapins
6. North Carolina State
7. Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets
8. Virginia Tech Hokies

This could be a humbling year for coach Frank Beamer. Beamer had a tough offseason dealing with the off-the-field trouble involving Marcus Vick. The talented quarterback won't play this year.

Tech needs to get it together in the locker room to have success on the field. The combination of the off-the-field distraction and the new conference is why I'm picking the Hokies this low. I do believe in Beamer, so we'll see.
Now to be fair, I don't guess Craig was lying. And I'll also grant that there were times this season (The N.C. State game, the first half of the Georgia Tech game) when I could hear him laughing in the back of my head.

So imagine my surprise when I read this today (emphasis added):

Virginia Tech at Miami (FL) - 1 p.m. ET (ABC) Preview Virginia Tech, 11:30 a.m. ET

The winner gets the whole enchilada, BCS and all. Last year, Virginia Tech scored three touchdowns off takeaways and went on to dominate the Hurricanes. This year Miami has only nine turnovers, a trend it needs to continue.

Talk about trends, how about Brock Berlin's numbers over the last seven games: 56 percent completion rate, nearly 1900 yards, 19 TDs and only two interceptions. Not bad, but he'll be tested by a Tech defense that has 17 interceptions on the year. And the Hokies have gone on to score 131 points off 28 turnovers.

Here's the deal: The Hokies have allowed just seven touchdown passes all season and only given up a total of 14 TDs! Remarkable.

Pick: Hokies invade the Orange Bowl and are BCS bound.

Thanks for the vote of confidence, but can you say bandwagon?

Now this is one hell of a segue, but I remember a scene from "Race For Your Life, Charlie Brown" towards the end of the movie. After their raft goes over the falls, ends up on a water wheel, and goes crashing back down into the river, one of the kids (I think it was Linus) has the presence of mind to ask "Are we dead?" Lucy, being who she is, coarsely responds 'Thanks to Charlie Brown!" When the same kid gathers up the presence to realize "We're not dead?" Lucy just as snappily remarks "No thanks to Charlie Brown!"

If we win, I won't be in the Receiving Line to give Craig James thanks. But if we lose, I'll find a way to blame it on the extra bandwagon weight.

Go Hokies!


Dissin an Andrew Sullivan Article

Sullivan makes a reasonably good point in this piece:
Within many a red state voter, there's a blue state lifestyle. And within many a blue state liberal, there's a surprisingly resilient streak of moralism. And it is this internal conflict that makes America still such a vibrant and compelling place.
However, the anecdotes that Sullivan uses to arrive at this conclusion are remarkably poorly reasoned.

Just a couple days after TNR published this piece which pooh-poohed Frank Rich's claim that viewership numbers for Desperate Housewives is higher in red states than in blue states, Sullivan repeats the charge. [-ed Doesn't Sullivan read TNR? Wasn't he an editor at one point or something?] (Side note: I would really love to get my hands on the original TV Weekly report that spawned this particular meme.)

Then continuing the supposition that red states don't actually value marriage more, Sullivan brings up the very TX-MA divorce rate canard we debunked a few weeks ago [-ed Doesn't Sullivan read polyscifi? -Ha! Ha! Ha!]. To bolster his "red states don't value marriage in practice" charge, Sullivan does add one point that we have not considered before - the percentage of people unmarried in each state. Sullivan cites 32.4% of TX as unmarried, and MA as 26.8% - a difference of 5.6% However, this is entirely an artifact of TX having a younger population than MA. Let me back that up with the census which notes that 22.8% of MA is under 18 while 28% of TX is under 18 - a difference of 5.2%. The fact that TX is significantly younger than MA has everything to do with the difference in unmarried numbers.

Sullivan then shifts gears to look at the comparative abortion rates in the US and the Netherlands. So why would Sullivan stop with the red v blue comparison? Why not compare TX and MA again to continue the logical conceit? Particularly if the reason for the piece is to highlight the internal conflicts within America...

Perhaps because the ostentatious reason given for the piece is really just cover for a hit on conservatives.

Perhaps because the comparison on this statistic does not support his poorly reasoned argument. The TX rate is 24.8 abortions / 1000 women and the MA rate is 30.2 abortions / 1000 women. (source) The numbers are even worse when you consider the ratio of abortions to births. Using this source, the birth rate in TX is 17.6 / 1000 persons and in 13.0 in MA. Without counting miscarriages, it appears pretty clear that a higher percentage of conceptions in MA (53%) end in abortions than in TX (41%). (for this stat, conceptions = births + miscarriages)

Then Sullivan adds this beaut: "A recent study, however, found no measurable difference in divorce rates between those who are "born again" and those who are not. 29 percent of Baptists have been divorced, compared to 21 percent of Catholics." (again making me think this is more of a hit piece than anything else). Rather than continuing the comparison across red and blue, Sullivan is now comparing against two different red groups (Catholics voted Republican in this past election). Further the comparison loses all sense of perspective. Both of these groups have divorce rates much lower than the national average (about half of all marriages end in divorce). So in light of Sullivan's thesis - the Baptists (and the Catholics) are practicing what they preach - the Catholics are just a little bit better about it. And this might just be influenced by the greater emphasis that Catholics place on divorce - you can't divorce and be considered a good Catholic - it's a mortal sin (i.e. the Catholics preach against divorce more, so they divorce less - words do line up with actions).

The rest of the article is just a long sequence of ad hominen tu quoques - the very form of argument that TNR railed against. So if you want to read one of the worst reasoned articles I've read
in a while, go read Sullivan's piece.

A final note - I exchanged some emails with Sullivan on my problems with his article. While I'm grateful for his response, Sullivan hasn't given any appearance of wanting to correct the logical errors. Thus, the best recourse left to me was to post this.

UpdatePer Roger's and Matt's comments, the abortion rates are inflated due my abortion stats only being for women 15-44 (which I failed to notice) versus birth rates for the entire population. When you correct for that, the abortion/conception rates drop down to the better (but still too high) rate of around 25%.


Choosing Worst

I had a good friend in college who lived in Ecuador & Brazil for about a year each. I don't remember which country she attributed this to, but the Catholic schools there were teaching all kinds of ludicrous misinformation about sexuality; she was kind of appalled at some of what women her age there believed (e.g., that masturbation caused impotence). Well, it looks like we might be going down the same road, if this is accurate. Did you know that HIV spreads through sweat and tears? (I think we can all agree that seminal "jazz rock" band Blood Sweat & Tears has something to do with transmission, though). Or that women have a scientific need for "financial support?" Neither did I, but then I didn't have the benefit of abstinence-only sex education!

N.B.: there probably are good abstinence-only sex ed programs. And textbooks are in general pretty poorly put together, I guess. The best sex-ed program I had wasn't so much "abstinence-based" as "taught by a woman I was with at the time." Now that's what public schools need.

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Red Oblasts and Blue Oblasts

(This was written in yet another attempt to ramp back up to regular writing, once my "real" work load lessens...stay tuned.)

Okay, maybe they're not oblasts. Maybe they're okrugs. Or just provinces. Who knows? (Actually, I'm pretty sure they're oblasts. Perhaps more to the point, who cares?)

Anyway, I just saw this map on Wikipedia today, and my first thought was "My God, it's spreading!"

Maybe this is just the warm-up for how election returns will be done for the impending world government...


They Walk Among Us

Here's a sighting of an Autobot...(h/t Instapundit & Corner). Many more sightings are gathered here.

Or maybe they're just a commercials...


EE Grad Schools

In the off chance that anyone in the audience is looking into electrical engineering graduate school, why would you look anywhere other than Virginia Tech?

However, if you are looking at any of the other top 50 schools, I compiled an excel file today with links to the EE graduate course descriptions for all of the top 50 schools. You can download it here.

(It was actually used as part of a white paper I wrote on software radio education, but I figure it's useful for anyone pondering a graduate degree in EE...)


Thursday, December 02, 2004


Article & Paper

Now for the self aggrandizement part of polyscifi...

A while back, I mentioned that I was writing an article for the EE Times. Well it finally got published and can be read online for free here. The article is on the future of wireless and looks at the growth of wifi/wimax and the development of software/cognitive radio. It's not very technical and includes a few excessively cute phrases so it should be fine for the nontechnical audience.

If you read it, you'll notice the dateline is November 1 and today is December 2. Turns out that the good people at EE Times never got around to telling me when they were publishing the article (which is why I hadn't brought it up again before today). This week, I found out it had been published when a colleague from work congratulated me on its publication.

Then at the SDR Forum Conference I traveled to a couple weeks ago, a paper of mine from the 2002 conference was named "Best Paper" or "Outstanding Paper" or something like that. That probably sounds confusing and needs a little explanation. First, the Forum decided this year that they wanted to start recognizing important papers for the previous year's conference. Since this was the third conference, they had to play catch up with the first two and announced the 2002 awards this year. As to the confusion over the actual award, I chaired a session on cognitive radio that ran over (for me in particular as I had to tear down some equipment and field some questions on this year's paper). Because it ran over, I missed the actual award announcement. My advisor told me of the award and said it was for "Best Paper" from 2002, but the certificate I received only says "Outstanding Paper."

Anyways, if you would like to read my "award winning" paper, it's available for download here (pdf). It's a little more technical in nature, but should still be quite approachable for the nontechnical reader.

And if you care to see some of what I do for a living (along with this other blogger), a whole bunch of papers, tutorials, presentations and what not are available at this site.

This NYT article relates to a factoid in my EE Times article. Verizon is challenging Pennsylvania's plan to roll out a government funded state-wide wireless network. Looks like a compromise will be reached where industry gets the first shot at rolling out a network. Perhaps industry will play a bigger role than what was presaged by Philadelphia's actions. And that should be a good thing.


UN is a front for Darth Sidious??

Is it just me or does the Economist's copy of the UN logo look a little too much like Darth Sidious? Take a look see for yourself.

Here's the UN Logo

Here's Darth Sidious

I'm sure this means something. I'm just not certain what.


Wednesday, December 01, 2004


You Can't Make This Shit Up!

From today's Hollywood Reporter:

The Hollywood Reporter has established a leadership award to honor Sherry Lansing, chairman and CEO of Paramount Pictures, in recognition of her groundbreaking achievements and strong ideals. Lansing will receive the inaugural Sherry Lansing Leadership Award on Dec. 7 at the Beverly Hills Hotel...

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Foreign Language Films

A Very Long Engagement got me thinking about the Academy Award for Foreign Language film in general. I think the title of the award is misleading; it should be called Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. The L. A. Times had a recent piece about this, but it's in their CalenderLive section so it's subscribers only; it's summarized by Studio Briefing here.

Eligibility for Best Foreign Language Film is governed by the Academy's rule 14, here; by reading the rules, it's clear that this award is designed to reward national cinema, i.e., movies that can be assigned to a particular country. This makes less sense now than it did when the award was created: look at the production companies involved in The Motorcycle Diaries for an example: seven different countries were involved in production. (And none of them are Focus Features, which distributes the film in the US and gets top billing in the advertising campaigns and trailers here).

Like the issue with government subsidies and A Very Long Engagement, the issue here is really what qualifies as a foreign film. I don't think being shot in a foreign language is enough; otherwise The Passion of the Christ is eligible, and that's not a foreign film. Reading subtitles is not good in itself. Being shot in a different country clearly isn't enough either; I love Maria Full of Grace, but it's an American movie, cause Josh Marsten wrote and directed it. The key clause in eligibility, for me, is this:

The submitting country must certify that creative talent of that country exercised artistic control of the film.

As it stands now, this award is more like a film Olympics for non-English-speaking countries. Every country gets one entry (and their film does not have to have shown in Los Angeles, but it must be made available to the Academy with English subtitles). I don't have a problem with this setup; I think there's a lot to be gained and nothing to lose by encouraging other countries to create their own national cinema.

I have mixed feelings about movies like The Motorcycle Diaries, where most of the talent and money is non-American, but the movie can't be attributed to any one country: the director's Brazilian but none of the money is. This sort of thing will happen more and more often as more production companies try to share risks with others. Maybe the award should be called "Best Film Funded and Created In A Single Non-English-Speaking Country." It doesn't scan, but it'd be honest. They could add "Best Film Funded By A Consortium of Production Companies, None Of Which Are American," or "Best Motorcycle Diaries," for short.

Postscript: If the Academy really wants to encourage national cinemas, they should get rid of this requirement:

Viewing Foreign Language Film entries on videocassette or DVD will NOT qualify a member for voting purposes in this category.

Since only Academy members who have seen all five nominated films can vote in this category, films that do not have U. S. distribution get an advantage, paradoxically. Make it harder for Academy members to see one of the films (without U.S. distribution or screener DVDs, the only options are Academy screenings and foreign-studio arranged screenings), and only people who really want to see a particular nominated film will see it. If they really wanted to see it, they're more likely to want to vote for it, and if only those people get to vote...

For an example of this principle in action, see One Day In September, which had no distribution anywhere at all but beat out Buena Vista Social Club. ODiS is a fine movie, but it won because only members who'd managed to see it during the one week it screened in Los Angeles could vote. I say, count DVDs so as many members as want to are able to see all the nominees.

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Some things speak for themselves.

H/T Defamer.

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Christmas Gifts? No Probalo!

If you have annoying younger siblings and aren't sure what to get them, I recommend this.

I haven't posted for a while & I have a lot of new stuff to talk about so apologies, & I'm back. That was directed to the "fans" who "read" this blog.

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French? Schmench!

Jody posted about A Very Long Engagement below: my comments won't fit in the comments section, so:

It's a question of money. 2003 Productions made the film; it's a front for Warner Brothers. The French government throws a lot of money into homegrown productions, Warner established 2003 productions to get some of that cash. There may or may not be other subsidies for American productions shooting in France, but the money 2003 wanted was reserved for wholly French films. Whether France should direct resources toward wholly French films is an arguable proposition, but Jeunet got his money ($47 million) to make this movie 100% from Warner. In fact, funding for the film was announced two days before creation of 2003 Productions--it was Warner Independent's biggest budget for a French language film ever, & so Warner corporate wanted to do everything possible to see that the movie made as much as possible.

Still not 100% sure about 2003 being a trojan horse? Here's Variety's lede when 2003 productions was created (6/19/2003):

"Attempting to go where no U.S. major has gone before, Warner Bros. is setting up a French-led production house to tap into Gallic state subsidies."

Warner gamed the system & lost. Interestingly, Oliver Stone gamed the system and won: Alexander got French subsidies. The difference: Stone got some of his money from Pathe, a real-deal French production company, and Stone's mother is French (though I don't think he has dual citizenship). Not that French subsidies kept Alexander from being a big, $200 million dollar pile of flaming crap.

I'm sympathetic to the French in that more and more American companies are making "foreign" films: HBO made Maria Full of Grace (which is a-1 excellent, and Fine Line distributed it), it was written and directed by an American, using a half-American crew, but to watch it you'd think it was Colombian through and through (they shot in Ecuador, actually: Colombia got nothing, except a new star; if I were the Academy I'd give Catalina Sandino Moreno the award for sure).

Think of it this way: building Z4s in South Carolina employs a lot of Americans, but you wouldn't say it makes BMW an American car company, or the Z4 American.

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