September 11, 2010

Movies I Hate: Legally Blonde & Pearl Harbor

I've been badly missing my pathetically modest posting target of once a month, so it's time yet again to break out the filler.

I have only one "Top Ten List" on Netflix, and it is titled Movies I Hate. The description reads, "Not just movies I strongly dislike. Movies I wouldn't piss on to put out a fire." Here are two more from that list. Enjoy.

Legally Blonde

0.5 out of 5 stars

96 minutes of my life. 96 minutes which I will never get back. 96 minutes gone forever. That's a debt I won't quickly forget, Robert Luketic. I honestly don't remember most of what happens because I think I slipped into a coma about twenty-five minutes in. Somehow we're supposed to empathize with the protagonist, a total ditz, because she's actually smart and thoughtful on the inside. Ha. Hahahaha. Yeah, good one. Some stuff happens, nobody cares, maybe some more stuff happens, I really don't know. All I know is that I suffered from recurring nosebleeds for two weeks afterward, and I am holding each and every member of the cast and crew personally responsible.

Pearl Harbor

0.5 out of 5 stars

Yeah. One of the most dramatic events of the past century, and we spend an hour watching a pilot hit on his dead buddy's girlfriend. This movie has everything: distortion of historical fact, subtly racist structure, mind-numbing romantic subplot, one-dimensional characters... what's not to like? It's like Top Gun without as much entertaining homoeroticism. It's like Titanic without a guy falling onto a giant propeller. It's like flicking the back of your leg in the same spot for two hours straight. Not incredibly painful, but don't you have something better to do with your time?

June 2, 2010

Money management for laid-back young professionals

Disclaimer: I am not an accountant. This information is correct to the best of my knowledge, but I make no promises.

Disclosure: I could in theory make money by recommending ING to someone reading this post, which would make me an affiliate.

So you're doing alright

You've finished (or at least started) college. You're financially secure, except for the occasional Friday where you spend $80 on sushi or forties or candy cigars. You're reasonably careful with your money, and you've got a nice chunk of money sitting in your account.

Now, you know that real adults have all sorts of complicated financial problems that drive them to bifocals and reading the Wall Street Journal, but you can't be bothered with that! You are busy riding your hipster bike and learning how to cook a pot roast and wondering why your metabolism has slowed down so much since you turned 23.

Well don't worry. You should be managing your money better, but it turns out finance doesn't need to be very complicated. I will explain the things you need to know in 15 minutes, and then you can spend a couple hours setting up accounts. After that, you will be given money every month for doing nothing! Trust me, earned interest is like magic. Not only is it easy money, it's a great psychological payout.

I'll start with the most important things and move to the optional stuff. If you're easily intimidated, try the first couple steps and find out how satisfying good money management is, then come back for more.

Three golden rules

  1. Don't store large sums of money in your Wells Fargo savings account.
  2. Don't store large sums of money in your Wells Fargo savings account.
  3. If your money is doing nothing else, it should be earning you interest.

If you're still in college

There is one important thing for you to do right now. Go get a credit card. No, you don't need to use it for much (see below), but you should get one. Many banks have a "student card" that you can get with proof of enrollment. Here's why this is important: the second you graduate, getting a credit card becomes much, much harder. You're stuck in a Catch-22 where no one wants to give you a card until you have a credit history, but you can't establish a history because you don't have a card. So get a card now. Not tomorrow after you play some more Modern Warfare. Do it now.

Credit cards

You should have a credit card. You shouldn't actually use it for credit, but you should make one purchase a month and pay off your bill immediately. Treat it exactly like a debit card, with one extra step involved. It's a nuisance, but it's the easiest way for you to establish a credit history, and like it or not, you will want a good credit history at some point in your life, like when you go looking for a car or home loan. So play the game, find yourself a credit card.

The credit card business is filled with nasty tricks, but if you do like I said and never ever ever buy more than you can pay for at the end of the month, none of them apply to you. Interest rates are dangerous and complex, but if you don't carry a balance they can't charge you interest.

Rewards programs are a nice perk, but as a laid-back young professional your spending is pretty low, so your returns will be too. Just find a card with no annual fee and you'll be fine.


Rule number one, kids: don't store large sums of money in your Wells Fargo savings account. Don't store it in your Bank of America account or any other "traditional" bank either. Why? Because they're greedy bastards out for profit at any cost, but here's the kicker: they're so outdated and inefficient that they aren't even good at making a profit, so their strategy is simply to screw you. Really hard. Even when times are good, they only give you some fraction of a percent in interest. This is pathetic, and you can do so much better with so little extra effort.

Go ahead and keep a traditional bank account if you want the ATM access, the convenience of a brick and mortar location, and so on. But if you have a sum of money that you expect to hold onto for more than about three months, you should be putting it somewhere else.

Credit Unions

Credit unions are like banks, but they are member-owned nonprofits. What this means in practice is that they are generally less shitty than the typical for-profit bank. Interest rates are a bit better, they don't deluge you with junk mail selling life insurance and shit, and they're less likely to try shady tactics to fleece you.

Credit unions have some of the same disadvantages as traditional banks. Their rates, while better, are still not amazing. And they tend to be plagued by some of the relics of traditional banking, like crappy websites. Credit unions can have fewer real-world locations than commercial banks, but if you pick one in your area you may find it just as convenient.

I still do most of my day-to-day banking through a credit union. I mail in checks as I get them and get money out through my debit card, ATMs (if you live near a coop, they may have a fee-less ATM for credit union accounts), and the odd personal check.

Credit unions tend to have some sort of membership rules, but they're not too hard to get into. Look for credit unions serving your area; many accept members from a certain geographical region. Or ask your family members; some credit unions will grant membership to family of current members.

Online savings accounts

Online savings accounts are the triumph of efficiency in this brave new world of ours. They tend to utterly destroy traditional banks when it comes to interest rates, without any real catch.

Obviously, online banks come with the disadvantage of not having real-world locations. There are two ways to handle this. The first is to simply adjust your habits, and you may find that you never really needed a physical bank. You can mail in your checks, get your paycheck by direct deposit, and use ATMs and debit cards to pay for everything. The second option is to use an online savings account in conjunction with a traditional bank or credit union. Do your transactions in the traditional account, and then when you have accumulated a chunk of money that you don't plan to touch for a while, simply transfer it electronically to your online savings.

I use ING Direct, and I like their rates a lot. They offer some nice convenience features as well; for example, you can fill out an online form to have them mail a paper check to someone. Unfortunately, their website is possibly the worst banking site I have ever used, both in terms of usability and security, which is saying quite a lot given the field of contenders.

If you do want to sign up with ING, get in touch with me and I'll send you a referral code to use, and then we both get free money. Hooray!

Ally Bank is a newcomer, but looks promising. Their rates are about as good as ING, and they have a refreshing no-bullshit slant to their marketing and policies. I haven't tried them myself, but they are worth a look.


CDs are Certificates of Deposit (I don't know why they are called that). They're also sometimes called Term Certificates. The idea is this: you put money into a CD and lock it up for a specified amount of time (anywhere from six months to ten years). The interest you will make over that period of time is set when you open the CD and does not change. The tradeoff is that this money is inaccessible until the time the CD matures, so you should use CDs for savings you don't expect to need until well after the amount of time you choose. However, if some terrible emergency happens, you can withdraw early, usually at the penalty of three months' worth of interest - not all that harsh.

Think of CDs as risk-free, lazy investing. You know exactly what return you'll get on your money, and the only work you do is picking a length of time.

Pro tip: if you're thinking of buying into a longer-term CD (a couple years or more), realize that you are also buying into that particular interest rate. This can hurt you; if you buy a five-year CD at 1.5% and the market rises, they may be offering 3% the very next year, so you would actually have been better off buying a one-year and renewing. Of course, this can work in your favor, too. I beat just about every investor ever by continuing to make 4.15% on some of my savings for about a year after the housing bubble crashed (savings, mind you, that had not lost a third of their value like they would have if they had been invested anywhere in the stock market).


IRAs are special accounts that help you save for retirement. You put in a limited amount of money each year to save for retirement, and the government gives you a tax break - it's like an internal revenue high-five.

First things first: your employer may offer some sort of retirement plan as part of the benefits package. It may be an IRA, a 401k (which is like an IRA but lamer), or a SIMPLE IRA (which is more like a 401k than an IRA and why did they name it that way). See if this includes "contribution matching." This is where you agree to put something like 3% of your salary into a retirement account and your employer will put that same amount into your account. If they offer something like this, take it. This is free money - you are doubling your investment simply by making it.

If your employer doesn't offer this or you would like to contribute more money, consider opening an IRA on your own. There are two kinds of IRAs: Traditional IRAs and Roth IRAs. With a Traditional IRA, money goes in tax-free, but when you get it out, you pay taxes. With a Roth IRA, you pay taxes when you put the money in, but when you get it out, no taxes.

Either type is a fine choice, but a Roth IRA is particularly well-suited to a laid-back young professional like yourself. Roth IRAs have rules about the maximum amount of income you can make and still contribute, but unless you've already struck it rich with some startup, you're good there. And it's a long time before retirement, which means you put a little money in now, and by the time you're getting wheezy it will have grown into a lot of money (thanks to the magic of compound interest), which you then get to withdraw tax-free. Excellent.

Another Roth bonus: you can't withdraw your earnings (i.e. interest) until you've retired, but you can withdraw your original contributions if something comes up. And you can even withdraw up to $10,000 of earnings if you're buying your first house. Uncle Sam has got your back, even if he's not going to help you pick out curtains.

Here's another thing to know: an IRA is just a container of sorts. Once your money is in an IRA, you still have control over what it's doing. You can put it in cash reserves or bonds (much like a savings account), take out a CD, or invest it (more on this later). The IRA just provides the special tax rules, the rest is still up to you.

Now: must you open an IRA and max out your contribution limit right away? Some people will tell you absolutely yes. They may even be unduly aggressive about it. My opinion? Probably, but it's up to you. Saving now will make your life easier in the future. Failing to start saving this very instant will not end with you as a rheumatic beggar wandering the streets of Tampa. It will just mean that later in life, you will have to take retirement saving very seriously; you will probably worry a bit more about your finances. But if you prefer the extra spending money now while you're young and carefree, and are prepared to accept the consequences down the road, it's your prerogative. As long as it's an informed decision, I won't knock it.


An HSA is a savings account for health insurance. You pair it with a "High Deductible Health Plan," which is insurance that only kicks in after something like $2,500 out-of-pocket; before that you'll be paying for everything except preventative care. These plans are substantially cheaper than typical health insurance, which means you have money left over to put into an HSA. Money goes into and out of an HSA tax-free, as long as you spend it on medical expenses. This can mean a visit to the doctor, but you can also use the funds for things like eyeglasses, crutches, or some NyQuil from the local drugstore. Once in an HSA, your money stays there until you spend it, and if you still have it at retirement, your HSA becomes basically another IRA that you can withdraw from for any reason.

HSAs are a good deal if you stay reasonably healthy - money that would otherwise have gone to the insurance company goes into your own savings. On the other hand, if you get sick and incur a lot of medical expenses one year, you'll probably come out behind. It's a wager of sorts, and you know your own health the best, so it's up to you.


I am going to keep this section short because there is good news - all those people who obsess over stock picks of the day and use all sorts of acronyms and watch CNBC all day? You can ignore all of them. Picking your own stocks is almost always a losing proposal - you're going up against entities with insane amounts of resources at their disposal. And even if you pay some "financial expert" to manage your portfolio, statistically they're probably going to perform no better than the market as a whole. Experts are not actually as expert as you (or they) think they are.

So what's a laid-back young professional to do? Buy index funds. An index fund tracks the performance of the whole market - the market goes up, you win; the market goes down, you lose. Since markets tend to grow over long periods of time, you'll probably win. Or else you'll be stuck in a post-apocalyptic outback wasteland, and you should probably focus more on securing some petrol and escaping from Lord Humungus and less on the ticker price of your stocks and bonds.

Much has been written elsewhere about index funds elsewhere, so do a bit of Googling if you need convincing. I have an account with Vanguard and have been happy with it - they built their business on index funds, so they're a good bet.

So... many... accounts...

If you follow all this advice, you may end up with your money in a lot of different places. As of writing this, I have two savings accounts, two checking accounts, three CDs, two IRAs, and an HSA. That's a lot of accounts to keep track of, and you'll need to come up with some sort of system to make sure you don't get overwhelmed.

A quick plug: I use, and I don't know what I would do without them. I can see all my accounts in one place, with a UI that doesn't suck, and a website that doesn't hassle me with stupid useless shit. They sort your transactions for you, and have shiny graphs and budgeting tools and the like. Using it is a pleasant experience, which is practically heresy in the world of finance.

Yes, giving your account information to Mint is a potential security risk, but they have one of the best-written security sections I've seen on a website. If you're concerned, I highly recommend reading it and deciding for yourself.

And no, they didn't pay me to advertise. I just really like Mint.

Go do it

You made it this far, so you're clearly motivated enough to put at least some of this into action. Start at the top of this article and work down. If you do nothing else, please don't store large sums of money in your Wells Fargo savings account. Or worse yet, in your Wells Fargo checking account. I'm shuddering just thinking about it.

May 9, 2010


One of my Facebook buddies got hit with an attack today that spammed his entire friends list with a link to a "fan page". The page promises "LOOK AT HIS COMMENT.. IM STILL IN SHOCK!!" and gives you a button to "see the worst status update ever". When you click it, you are given a series of commands: hit Ctrl-C, then hit Alt-D, then hit Enter.

Unbeknownst to the user, there is a hidden textfield on this page containing Javascript code. Upon clicking the button these contents are automatically selected. The instructions, when followed, result in the user copying the code and pasting it into their address bar, where it runs like a bookmarklet. You can see a deconstruction of the code in question in this blog post. The Javascript is obfuscated, but there's no technical need for that - probably just a scammer trying to protect his secret.

Having the user copy and paste the Javascript into their address bar breaks out of the sandbox for third-party content, allowing full control over the user's account. The code uses this power to silently mark the user as "liking" the offending page, and sends a message to all their friends "suggesting" the page.

The Facebook page in question has been taken down, but at the end of the process the user is linked to this URL to see the promised status update (I don't recommend visiting it):

There is some invasive Javascript going on that tries to con you into taking a survey. Presumably this is the motivation behind this attack - get people to this site and then relieve them of their money through a venerable internet scam of one type or another. Interestingly, if you can make it past the survey (thanks, Firebug), there's a link to this post, which seems to be a legitimate and unaffiliated blog.

Lord knows Facebook has had their share of security fails in the past, but this particular technique seems to have surfaced only recently. I am christening it Dumbjacking, because it's like Clickjacking, but dumber. It relies on tricking the user into doing something dumb, like pasting Javascript into their address bar.

But here's the problem: this technique is nothing if not effective. As of writing this, the page I investigated had 15,571 people who "liked" it. It seems dumb, but for someone who has no idea about "Javascript" or "URLs" or "the address bar", the shady sequence of keypresses means nothing and raises no red flags. In fact, a decade of awful usability in web apps has trained people to find arcane instructions like "Press CTRL and C" mundane, a normal part of using websites.

Dumbjacking is never going to be completely preventable. There will always be gullible, confused people who will blindly follow any number of steps (remember the old IRC Alt-F4 gag?) and somehow compromise their accounts or other information. We can't prevent all of it.

But a large part of the responsibility lies with Facebook's awful app model. The idea of allowing third-party HTML (and worse, sandboxed JS) to sit right inside pages on the official Facebook site is just terrible. I don't think they have accurately assessed the threat of "native styling" - that is, third-party widgets that look exactly like real Facebook widgets. There's no indication of where Facebook-sanctioned content ends and third-party code begins. Give users a button that looks like a Facebook button, and they will click it. Give users incomprehensible instructions on a Facebook page with the promise of something outrageous at the end, and they will follow them to the letter.

Can a site prevent every instance of users doing something stupid? Of course not. But the Facebook app system is just making it easy for scammers. Embedded content means you can launch your attack from the cozy confines of Facebook itself, and Facebook's mission to plaster those stupid "Suggest this to a friend" buttons across every corner of the earth means there will be no shortage of new attack vectors.

The technical decisions coming out of Facebook are the decisions of a company interested in monetizing as much as possible instead of doing right by their customers. There will be no end of security and privacy problems surfacing on Facebook. As far as I'm concerned, it should be treated as a site that is always compromised, where all information is public, and no content is trusted. Want to stay safe on Facebook? Use it as little as possible.

April 22, 2010

Facebook Hates Old People

So I was on Facebook, inspired by their latest round of privacy fail to clean out the last vestiges of personal profile information on my account. I decided that altering my birthday to give myself a bit more age might lend me a certain air of respectability. But to my surprise, upon setting my birthday to 1901, I saved my changes only to be informed that I had in fact been born April 22nd, 2010.

Cue "Born Yesterday."

"That's funny," says I. "December 14th 1901 works fine, but the 13th is no good at all, nor anything earlier than that!"

So if you're 109 years old and join Facebook, they won't let you show your birthday! Same goes for anyone older (I bet that 122-year-old is pissed). Seems pretty ageist, don't you think? And what's so bad about December 13th, eh? I mean, Ted Nugent was born on December 13th, but you can't hold that against the day itself...

Hang on, what's December 13th in Unix time?

$ date --date '1901-12-13' +%s

Well, I say! That's just a bit past -2147483648, which is... ah, that's right, -(2^31), or the lowest number that can be represented by a signed 32 bit integer. Guess we know how Facebook is storing their dates, eh? Too bad they didn't bother limiting the options on their date picker to match their technological limitations.

They must have some validation in place to prevent you from having a birthday in the future, so when the integer rolls over to a positive number, it just gets cut down to the current day. Pity, really. I was looking forward to being born on January 18th, 2038.

February 11, 2010

Introducing Scisr, a PHP Refactorer

I'd like you all to meet my latest hobby project. It's a standalone refactoring tool for PHP. I call it Scisr.

I looked around for refactoring solutions a while back when I had some tedious renaming to do at work, and was surprised by how poor the options were. This question has a fairly complete list of everything I found, which is to say, not much. And what options existed were not very powerful or, more often than not, simply didn't work at all (I never did get Zend Studio to successfully refactor anything, even in the short periods between crashes).

So like any good nerd, I decided I could do better. I had been using PHP_CodeSniffer a lot, and thought that it would make a perfect platform to start work on - while my needs were slightly different than the typical "sniffs," the tokenizer architecture would suit me very well. Thus was Scisr born.

The design goals were influenced by aspects of the other tools that I disliked. I hated the idea of installing an entire IDE and twiddling with a whole bunch of project settings just to rename something. Despite what some Java programmers would have you think, refactoring is not an end in and of itself. Refactoring is something to do, test, and move on with as little fuss as possible. You're not using Scisr for the thrill of using Scisr - you're using it because it can help you get a job done. So Scisr is a standalone tool with incredibly simple installation, and I provide incredibly simple usage instructions on the project page. It should be possible to start using it on your work in under 5 minutes.

Here's something about refactoring PHP: it's impossible to do a perfect job of it. If you are renaming the class method Foo::bar(), how would you handle the following code?
$classname = $_POST['c'];
$item = new $classname();

There's no right way to handle this because PHP is weakly typed. I should also mention that you would have to be a madman to use the above code in anything, ever.

There are definitely some advantages to weak typing, but it means that we will never be able to write completely precise refactoring tools. So why fight it? Instead, Scisr accepts these limitations and just does the best it can. When renaming methods, it looks for typing information in a number of places - instantiations, PHPDoc tags, parameter type hints, the comment type hints that Komodo IDE and Zend Studio recognize. And when it comes across a potential match that it just can't be sure about, it will notify the user without making a change (unless you have it set to "aggressive" mode, in which case it will go ahead and hope for the best).

I'm also not going to bother supporting actions that require individual attention. I'm focusing on the tedious refactoring tasks that can be effectively automated, and will provide significant saved effort. Currently, Scisr can rename classes, class methods, and files. In the future I may also support renaming functions and class properties. These are things that would otherwise require a lot of repetitive find and replace, or a clever scripted solution, and even then you'll be in trouble if you're acting on something with a generic name (ever tried renaming a method named 'validate'?).

So, now that you've read about it, why don't you try it out? There are installation and usage instructions over at the project page. Scisr is currently at version 0.2.0, which means it's a little rough around the edges, but it is usable. I would very much love to hear from you if you use it and find bugs, or have suggestions, or if you just enjoy using it. I'm pretty pleased with it so far, and I hope other people will find it useful too.

Enjoy, and please, let me know how it goes!

January 16, 2010

Avatar and Fetishizing The Other

Fair warning: This post may contain spoilers. However, I also feel I must point out that the foreshadowing in Avatar is so clumsy that the first half of the movie contains spoilers for the second half. So really, how much damage am I going to do?

So, James Cameron spends a decade working on his opus, and here it is. Truth and beauty in dazzling 3D, right? Wrong. I think this film is rubbish. Worse, I think this film is insidious rubbish that is a pro-establishment screed dressed in sheep's clothing of weak Iraq war metaphor. I think that continued success of rubbish like this adversely affects any hope of achieving a truly tolerant and egalitarian society.

It has already been pointed out that Avatar is another take on the classic white guilt fantasy. But the sci-fi setting gives it a weird undercurrent that I find more even more unsettling. By setting his non-whites as aliens, Cameron accidentally distills all the assumptions Hollywood makes about race, and then forces them into the cold light of day by pursuing an interspecies romance.

The Na'vi are a mish-mash of characteristics from just about every well-known "primitive" culture - feathers like Native Americans, Maori skin markings, African accessorizing (all African people are one big homogeneous tribe, if you didn't know), the hunting habits of Amazon tribes, and so on. This provides the framework for a bland allegory about evil white people - it's like indigenous peoples Malt-O-Meal. In the creation of this hunter-gatherer everyman, Cameron has provided a glimpse into the machinations of ignorant white men's minds.

Neytiri's introduction is as a howling dervish who shoots arrows mid-leap. She embodies the exotic, the mysterious, the untamed. When perturbed, she hisses like a feline (displaying her sharp, animal-like teeth). She views animals as kindred spirits. And see, what makes this a problem is that us white people have this really obnoxious habit of dressing dark-skinned models in animal prints and posing them with animals. We like to portray them as exotic, mysterious, and untamed. When we control the image, they are the Other.

Let's talk about Otherness. The idea started with Hegel, who said that consciousness cannot become self-conscious until it meets another consciousness and learns to define itself as separate from that other. Since then this idea has cropped up time and time again, because it seems to accurately describe a component of our psychology; humans have a tendency to define ourselves in opposition to other humans. Nationalism, racism, sports fans; we love to forge our identities by labeling Them and Us. It's not enough to have just an Us - if we find ourselves in a situation where there is no Them, we will quickly manufacture one.

Now, usually we take the straightforward route and just vilify the Other. Simply bicker over the prophet's cousin, or riot over those immigrants daring to live in "your" country, and get to fighting. But there's another method of oppression at which Americans in particular are becoming very adept. You declare your tolerance for the Other and talk about how much you like Others and how you have all sorts of Other friends. Meanwhile, you continue to marginalize the Other, but you make it subtle. You appropriate bits of their culture, but be sure place them in a one-dimensional box that leaves no room for growth. You pay lip service to equality but don't make any sacrifices of your own. In this way the Other can find no adversary to combat, and you can convince yourself that their failure to better themselves is due to some innate cultural deficiency. This is how we end up with black models dressed in leopard print.

What Cameron has created is the authoritative example of being ignorant and white. Not only is the appearance of the Na'vi built out of superficial elements of human ethnicities, but their entire culture is a slurry of half-baked ideas, the kind an ignorant white guy gets from paging through a National Geographic without bothering to read the articles (they are kinda long, after all). He's actually come up with some ludicrous explanation about neurons in plant matter to take the idea that "native peoples are really in touch with nature" to an extreme that has them literally talking to their ancestors through the trees or something.

There's neotribalism, and then there's this. This is not just yearning for simpler times or showing appreciation for low-impact lifestyles. This is fetishizing the Other. The Na'vi as a people are presented as strange, unknowable, yet utterly desirable. And creepily, Jake Sully plays out in concrete terms the fantasy that Cameron is playing out in the abstract. Sully is so enchanted by the Na'vi that he seeks to know, to possess, to dominate, and he consummates this quest by exerting his mastery over the natural world, hijacking control of the tribe, and having alien sex with Neytiri. And he is the protagonist because this is how ignorant white men understand desire.

We've been analyzing the movie in terms of the racial Other, but in fact the most famous application of Hegel was by Simone de Beauvoir, who applied the concept of the Other in The Second Sex, her book on the status of women:

Thus humanity is male and man defines woman not in herself but as relative to him; she is not regarded as an autonomous being... She is defined and differentiated with reference to man and not he with reference to her; she is the incidental, the inessential as opposed to the essential. He is the Subject, he is the Absolute – she is the Other.
-- Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

I'd like to argue that the Na'vi are not only racial Others, but collectively they represent the sexual Other, Beauvoir's female.

It's no accident that Neytiri is the only prominent Na'vi in the film. Sure, Tsu'tey is the chief warrior, but he is practically eating out of Sully's hand by the end of the film, despite having spent the entire movie being cuckolded by Sully. He is the weak, ineffectual man next to Sully's raging pillar of testosterone. Neytiri is the only character to display any depth at all, and she is the only one who sees a considerable amount of screentime.

The support of life became for man an activity and a project through the invention of the tool; but in maternity woman remained closely bound to her body, like an animal.
-- Simone de Beauvoir, The Second Sex

Neytiri is fierce and capable, yet she displays no volition of her own. There are some weak attempts at connecting her to her land and her people, but she seems to have no personal desires, no ambition or selfishness. She spends the film at the mercy of events around her, captive to her emotions. Her involvement with Sully only further strips her of will - by the climax, she is a Harley babe riding bitch on the gigantic symbol of virility, Toruk, clutched between Sully's manly thighs (but it's okay, she's helping the war effort by cheering).

Sully definitely has the largest... dragon.

Oh sure, she turns Colonel Quaritch into a pincushion at the end. But to what end is his death? The battle is already over; the Na'vi have clearly won. So even the vague desires that Neytiri has expressed for herself - preserving her land and people - are not at stake. The only threat Quaritch poses is to Sully, who he is happily trying to murder. Her sole motivation for killing Quaritch is to save her man, and in fact, this display of devotion is the only real thing Neytiri accomplishes all film. She has cemented her own subjugation.

Now, I'm not saying Cameron tried to make a movie that was obliquely racist and anti-feminist. But he did, and he is as guilty as anyone. His crime is intellectual indolence; using superficial fairy tales instead of seeking any true understanding. Our crime is that we keep throwing money at bullshit like this instead of exploring anything that we might find difficult or uncomfortable. A movie that grosses $77 million in the first weekend is part of our culture, whether we like it or not. And if we can't even stop producing this shit, how are we ever going to flush it out of our system? Why ask ourselves tough questions about equality in this country when we can indulge our white male guilt with useless tripe? It's useless tripe, but in 3D!

Bonus: Now that I've spoiled this movie, allow me to spoil the plot of Avatar 2 as well. The humans come back. This time they just drop the bombs from space. All the Na'vi die. The humans congratulate each other and wonder why they didn't think of that sooner. The End.