Monday night miscellany, part 5

None of my longer posts are coming together, so I write short to break the writer’s block:

— Food for thought: The proposed Hanke-Henry Permanent Calendar would replace our current calendar — jury-rigged to fit the unequal revolution and rotation of the Earth — with a fixed calendar, where every day of the year always falls on the same day of the week. Christmas would always be on a Sunday. Americans would always celebrate their independence on a Wednesday, while the French would do the same on a Saturday a week and a half later.

To equalize out the calendar, Hanke-Henry would add an extra week every five or six years.

Moreover, they’d also abolish time zones. All time would be UTC — so when it’s 0700 hours in London and the sun is coming up, it’s also 0700 in New York City but the middle of the night, and also 0700 in Honolulu — and the late evening. 0700 hours would always be evening in Honolulu, just as it would always be morning in London.

(It’s unclear how Hanke and Henry expect people to function — whether they want people to continue working 0900 to 1700 every day for synchronization, even if that means people in some parts of the world become nocturnal, or if they want people to continue setting their schedules largely by the sun but just calling it different times, or some combination of both.)

It’s a proposal that’s a big step towards the “rational” and away from the “natural,” and I’m not sold at all that it would be an improvement. But it’s at least thought-provoking.

— I’m ordinarily not one to be bothered by “RAS Syndrome” — the redundant use of a word with an acronym containing that word. Think “ATM machine” where ATM stands for “automatic teller machine.” Sure, I try not to use it because it’s not correct, but I’m not super detail-focused and generally can find better things to be annoyed about.

But I was struck the other day by a local sign advertising the sort of content people could get on their new HD TVs — content like “NFL Football” and “MLB Baseball.” Because I was watching this sign while sitting at a traffic light, I had a little bit of time to think, and was moderately surprised at how interesting I found such a relatively trivial question. On the most basic level, referring to “Major League Baseball baseball” is pure redundancy. The use of the term “Major League” before “Baseball” already distinguishes it from minor league baseball or foreign leagues like Nippon Professional Baseball. “National Football League Football” is a little better, if only because the repeated words aren’t right next to each other, but the second “football” is still semantically useless since there’s no other sport playing in the National Football League.

And yet. Consider if you saw a sign advertising “MLL games.” Would you know what that was? Probably not. Without Googling it, I might not guess that stands for Major League Lacrosse. So that’s not a very useful acronym. It would be better to write the whole thing out: “Major League Lacrosse games.” But if you’ve only got a small sign, you might not have room for four words totaling 24 letters. Would writing “MLL Lacrosse” be such a sin? (Well, actually, in this case, the ideal solution would probably be to write “Pro Lacrosse” since the difference between Major League Lacrosse and, say, the National Lacrosse League probably isn’t important for people the same way knowing whether you’re going to a major league baseball game or a single-A minor league baseball game would be. But this is just an example, because no one is selling TVs by one’s ability to watch professional lacrosse matches on them.)

Now, the MLB, the NFL, the NBA and even the NHL are not as obscure as lacrosse leagues. I would imagine even most Americans who don’t follow sports could identify that “NBA” means basketball, for example. Those who can’t probably aren’t going to be sold on a new TV by its capacity to show team sporting events. But does the added clarity of the redundant word outweigh the redundancy even when the acronym is well-known?

It goes without saying that “Actually, it’s more complicated than that” is practically my motto. But I’ve wasted enough pixels on this.

— It’s not a movie that would ordinarily arouse more than passing curiosity from me, but I have to admit I’m reasonably excited about the upcoming sci-fi/superhero movie “Chronicle.” Its basic synopsis: three teens get telekinetic powers and struggle with the moral implications of their newfound power. Nothing complicated. The basic story goes back at least to Plato’s Ring of Gyges. Added on top of that is a conceit or gimmick: it’s a “found footage” movie, à la “Paranormal Activity,” where everything you’re seeing on screen was supposed recorded by a participant in or observer of the film’s action. In addition to a movie-making-obsessed main character, “Chronicle” apparently also uses things like security camera footage to provide extra angles and information.

So far I’m still at “passing curiosity” stage. Here’s the trailer:

Seems reasonably well-crafted, as much as you can tell from a two-minute montage. And it’s getting good — even great — reviews so far. With six in so far on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s still 100 percent positive, with Empire even gushing that it’s “a stunning superhero/sci-fi that has appeared out of nowhere to demand your immediate attention.” Moreover, what could have been a cheap gimmick — the “found footage” conceit — seems to largely be effective thanks to some creative implementation by the filmmakers. If you can make it work, an effective conceit makes something all the more impressive.

Good reviews are usually enough to pique my interest. But what’s put me over the top is its unoriginality. The movie’s got some striking similarities to a webcomic I read a while back called “FreakAngels,” about a band of 12 young men and women granted psychic powers but not necessarily the maturity to wield them appropriately. Even though “FreakAngels” takes place mostly in a post-apocalyptic future (which the titular characters just MAY have brought about) it also includes some flashbacks to their adolescence, as super-powered teens on the run from the Man.

Watch the “Chronicle” trailer, especially the action climax from around 1:30 to 1:50. It looks like this screenshot:

Then check out these two excerpts from FreakAngels (warning: the second one is a bit bloody):

So while “FreakAngels” goes more for the R while “Chronicle” apparently got toned down to a PG-13, they’re both treading some similar ground — and it’s good ground to trod, rich in archetypes and fundamental questions of what it means to be human. If “Chronicle” were poorly executed (and despite the promising signs it could still turn out to be a dud) I might feel annoyed that something I like was ripped off (not that there was necessarily any direct inspiration). As it is, they’re more like two great song covers — sure, you’ve heard it before, but not quite in this way, and sometimes the cover eclipses the original. (And they’re both covers, of course, since neither one was on wholly original ground, or at least not if you limit your analysis to their similarities.)

— Speaking of upcoming good movies, it’s looking like a surprisingly good year for film. Already the January doldrums have given us “The Grey” and “Haywire” along with Oscar-bait prestige projects expanding to wide release. I can’t speak for the under-the-radar indie films, but just talking promising popcorn clicks, upcoming we’ve got “Chronicle,” the real-SEAL-starring “Act of Valor,” “The Hunger Games,” a new Aardman Studios animation in “The Pirates!”, the Joss Whedon-helmed “Avengers” movie, a new “Men in Black” film, the better of the two upcoming Snow White films in “Snow White and the Huntsman,” Ridley Scott’s “Prometheus,” the alternate history/horror schlockfest “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” Pixar’s “Brave,” Christopher Nolan’s final Batman movie “The Dark Knight Rises,” a high-concept sci-fi time-travel movie in “Looper,” the new James Bond movie “Skyfall,” Peter Jackson’s long-awaited “Hobbit” movie, Kathryn Bigelow’s still-untitled Osama bin Laden movie, Brad Pitt’s adaptation of the modern zombie classic “World War Z,” and the “serious” Abraham Lincoln movie, “Lincoln.”