Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Cat in the Hat: I am delighted to see that, for all the hoopla, The Cat in the Hat is apparently dreadful. On the other hand, Elf, which I have already pronounced sure to be the worst movie ever, due to the absolutely unfunny Will Ferrell, is pretty decent.

I link to these, not because I value the opinion of movie critics, but because in these cases, the criticisms seem to match public sentiment.

I generally don't trust movie critics for the same reasons I don't like literary authors--their existence depends on the idea that what regular people like doesn't actually affect what is good. If critics liked what you and me like, we wouldn't need them--we could just ask each other.

So in order to make us all feel like the critics are wiser than us, the critics have to go out of their way to slam movies that you and I would like, and to shower praise on movies any normal person would abhor, or, at best, sleep through. This makes them seem "wiser" and "more enlightened" than Mr. Causal Moviegoer.

Then the problem comes when we start buying into it. When we start believing that American Beauty is an important movie about me and you.

Sometimes it becomes obvious quickly how foolish and silly everybody was to get caught up in the hype. I think all of us are a little embarrassed now about how worked up we got over Titanic. The romantic main plot was pretty formula, and the ending was way more impressive in the special effects department than in the "Boy, I really care about what's happening" department.

But, wait a minute? Isn't this just the Doc doing what he accused the critics of doing? Criticizing a wildly popular movie, so that he can make himself seem smarter than everybody else?

Not at all. I'm asking you if you think Titanic was overrated. I'm guessing that, in retrospect, you do. I'm especially guessing you have if you've tried to sit through it recently.

So I'm just trying to say that we can sometimes get caught up the hype over a thing, and find way more in a film than was actually there.

This is why I never read the reviews before I see a movie, but talk to everybody I know who's already seen it. Because I don't want to be told if I'm supposed to like the movie--I just want to know if I'm going to enjoy it.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Happy thanksgiving from those hard rockers at Limozeen.

Saturday, November 22, 2003

Pop fiction: To understand the resentment that underscores the criticism of Stephen King's recent award from the National Book foundation, you have to have to understand that entire purpose of literary fiction is to create a mutual admiration society where authors who nobody wants to read can get together and compliment each other and remind each other how wonderful they are, so that they don't have to focus on the fact that the majority of what they write is completely inaccessible to most.

They want it to be inaccessible. They want it to be over people's heads. Because otherwise, what could they tell themselves when it wasn't salable?

So they lie to themselves and say that popular fiction is hack work that could be slapped together by anyone willing to sell out, popcorn and gumdrops, while they are creating crepes and filet minon.

Except that everybody would eat crepes and filet minon if it was the same price as popcorn and gumdrops, and although their books are often cheaper than a $30 Stephen King hardcover, people don't even think they're worth that much.

Instead, they're doing the literary equilvelent of oversalting everything, just so they can justify it when nobody cares. It's like when I was in junior high and wouldn't comb my hair. If I didn't try to be attractive and have people like me, at least I would know why they thought I was scuzzy, right? No fear of rejection if I'm already trying to make them reject me, right?

I'm not saying that every published work has to be popcorn. But the best of writing tries it's absolute best to remain accessible to the common man. (Think Guns, Germs and Steel or even Stephen Hawking's A Brief History of Time, which both avoid deep technical explanations or equations, but are straightforward enough that even simpletons like me can understand, even while handling weighty subjects. Both were popular and had substantive content.)

It's the same feeling that drove them to create a separate bestseller list for children's books, so they could hide that J. K. Rowling was creating powerful stories people of all ages cared about, using some of the same archetypes and literary allusions they did, but in a far more accessible and palatable way than they could ever wish to.

The literary emperors have got no clothes, and they're really, really scared somebody's going to notice.

So if you're wondering why the supposedly classy and elite authors are saying such petty and bitter things, and aren't even listing the prize they gave King on their homepage, even when King was nothing but cordial, and even donated the prize money back to their organization--just remember, the entire reason the prize exists is so that the writers can tell themselves they're better than guys like King, even though they haven't touched nearly the number of readers he has.

Phobos Contest: Well, Phobos finally got around to posting thier finalists, and I ain't one of them.

Anybody interested in reading my submission, though, can shoot me an email, and I'll be more than happy to send them a copy. It's called An Ideal Husband, and weighs in at a wee 3,000 words.

Straining at Gnats: Regarding the spat over this BC cartoon, I only have this to say:

If Fred Bassett were scrutinized this closely every time Alex Graham wrote a clunker, he'd have been lynched by now.

(First heard about it from the fine folks at :Freespace:)

Friday, November 21, 2003

Well, now I've seen everything.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

The Crystal City This was the novel I bragged about getting to finish due to my disappearance from the internet.

This is actually the sixth book of Orson Scott Card's "Tales of Alvin Maker" series. Card's goal, when he set out, was to create a uniquely American fantasy that drew on the magic and folklore of this nation for its fantastic elements. It also doubles as an alternate history novel, taking place in an 1800's America where France, England and Spain all still have claim on various parts of the continent. (As an example, in this version, George Washington was a British General who was beheaded for refusing to fight the Americans.)

To review the series for you, the first book, Seventh Son, Alvin is born, seventh son of a seventh son, which according to traditional folklore is supposed to make him a healer. However, since all of Alvin's older siblings are still alive, it's even more powerful for him--he ends up a "Maker," with powers over all types of elements.

In the second book, Alvin is kidnapped by Indians, and he finds himself the pupil of Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwa-Tawa of the Shawnee. But ultimately he ends up playing a huge role in the final showdown between the Reds, William Henry Harrison, and, believe it or not, Napoleon.

In the third book, by far my favorite of the six, Alvin prentices to a blacksmith, and learns more about who he is as he tries to help the son of an escaped slave avoid a return to the south.

The fourth book, which is my least favorite of the series, also introduces my favorite character, Verily Cooper, a lawyer with a knack for putting things together. There's also quite a bit of stuff with Napoleon and Honore de Balzac.

Heartfire is my wife's favorite. The main plot deals with witchcraft trials in New England, but it also contains some of the best stuff on slavery I've read in contemporary writing. And, since my wife likes it, you can bet it has its share of romance.

Which leads to the latest book, named after the Crystal City Alvin's known he was going to have to build since Red Prophet. By far the densest and most structurally straightforward of all the books, this book starts in New Orleans (called Nueva Barcelona since it fell back under Spanish rule), and you can pretty much guess where it ends up. (Yup. In a volcano.)

The whole series is worth reading, and as you can see, it tackles the major themes of American history (Frontier life, slavery, puritanism, Indian issues, etc.) and does so in a way that's both interesting and powerful. Check it out.

On Gay "Marriage": First of all, I've always considered marriage more of a religious issue than a legal one, and have considered legislation regarding marriage as being primarily affected by freedom of religion. Consequently, I am loathe to dictate what types of unions can and can't be approved by the government.

However, two points. Gay couples shouldn't pretend they're being discriminated against until everyone calls their union a marriage. Real discrimination is what happens to poligamists, or what used to happen to interracial couples in some states. These people are thrown in jail and locked up. Gay couples are, at least, left alone.

Second, trying to change the definition of marriage is both silly and superfluous. There's a good dialogue on it here, but there's a simpler way to think about it.

Let's say all of this goes down just like homosexuals think they want it to. "Marriage" now includes any union. To distinguish between them, people start calling them "heterosexual marriage" and "homosexual marriage." Everybody realizes these terms are still exclusionary, so finally somebody steps in and gets it decided that the term "heterosexual marriage" must include homosexual marriage. So in order to distinguish between the two, the media starts calling them "heterosexual heterosexual marriage" and "homosexual heterosexual marriage."

Do you see how silly it starts getting? Do you start to understand now why we're fighting to get the definition of marriage left as it is? It's not out of spite, or hate, or some type of conspiracy to control what happens in bedrooms. The fact is they're just different. Why try to make them the same?

Should my poligamist ancestors have tried to get the definition of monogamy changed to include being married to more than one wife? Or should they have strived to help people understand and accept polygamy? Would they have been better off using linguistic tricks to slide under the radar of existing law, or would they have been better off if everybody accepted them for who they actually were and what they were actually doing, and accepted them on those terms?

Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Well, I haven't just been avoiding blogging, but I've been avoiding the whole freaking Internet for the past few days. How's that gone for me? Well, I've helped my wife around the house more, been going to the gym every day, finished a book (reading, not writing), and got more sleep than I have in months.

I am, however, still finding ways to procrastinate my Nanowrimo novel, and I'm watching more TV than I have in months as well.


Sunday, November 09, 2003

Don't even bother clicking on it, unless you were tuned in to NBC on Friday nights in the mid-eighties, but thanks to Megachirops over at the Hatrack Forum, I finally got the name of a show I've been trying to figure out since I discovered the internet.

The answer?


Obscure Movie Review of the Day: The Hulk

Okay, so it's not so obscure.

I don't know quite what went wrong with this film. I really, really want to believe that the problem was that I didn't see it as it was meant to be seen--on a screen 500 miles high, in a theatre full of eight thousand people. I saw it on my little 19 inch TV, and I don't even remember whether I had my glasses on. Yeah. That must be it. Otherwise it would have rocked.

I mean, don't get me wrong. I loved all the ideas of this movie (Okay, all the ideas except the monster poodle. That was a bit of a stretch). I liked the editing, I liked they way they incorporated comic book frames into the scene composition, and I liked how they did the Hulk effects. But somehow, somewhere, something went wrong, and I found myself completely emotionally disconnected at every phase of the movie.

A big part of the problem may have been Nick Nolte, who here reprises his roll as a transient from "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," a movie which I never saw, but did read the MAD Magazine parody of, so I guess I could more accurately say he seems to reprise his roll from the MAD Magazine parody of "Down and out in Beverly Hills." Oh, heck yeah, I believe that thirty years ago he was the world's greatest scientist.

Part of the problem may have been the music. They really try to downplay the music here, maybe trying to get an M. Night sort of feel to the drama, but not quite hitting it. At some points the sound absolutely, positively works. For example, at one part, they make the interesting sound choice of, while a tank is exploding, playing down the sound of the explosion, while we instead hear the sound of Hulk brushing the dust off his hands. Stuff like that should be powerful, really rock. But while I was thinking, "wow, that was a neat sound choice," I wasn't actually feeling anything because of it.

Is this a sign I was overanalyzing the film? Or, more possibly, is it a sign that the movie was maybe overdirected, self-conscious to the point that the style gets in the way of enjoying the movie. Like an author who's so caught up in the "style" of his story that the style is all you notice, and the characters and plot all get swallowed up, a forest you can't see because of the words that, like the proverbial trees, just get in the way.

I hate to say that--especially about Ang Lee, who I think is as much of a genius as anybody who's in Hollywood can claim to be.

I just wish I could have seen it in a theatre. Because I really, really want to like this movie, even after having seen it.

Saturday, November 08, 2003

The Crystal City: Orson Scott Card's new Alvin Maker book is coming out this week. Hear the author talk about it here. You can even read the first third of the book online here.

And the signing schedule is here. I'm going to the one in Pasadena on the 11th, if anybody wants to come and hang out.

Larry King interviews David Blaine: The rough transcript is here.

Here's the exchange I enjoyed, and emphasizes what I was talking about regarding Baine blurring the line between magic and reality:

KING: Out of all of the things in history, what's one feat impressed you the most?

BLAINE: I mean, I liked when Orson Wells did the "War of the Worlds."

KING: When he fooled us all.

BLAINE: The radio. And everybody thought aliens were coming down.

KING: Fooled my parents.

BLAINE: Yes, thought I thought was amazing.

KING: My mother and father went running into the street.

BLAINE: I also liked Castro came into power and seemed like a white dove flew out of no where and landed on his shoulder and he just continued his acceptance speech, but you could see a guy throwing the doves from his jacket. That's how I think doves should be used.

Thursday, November 06, 2003

Dogs attacking their masters: I am fully in favor of this. I just can't decide whether it's an animal rights issue (does the dog have a right to choose?) or a gun control issue (A well-armed and well-regulated puppy militia being neccesary to the preservation of a free and secure animal kingdom, the right of pets to keep and bear arms should not . . .)

Anyone foolish enough to own a pet deserves what they get.

Except Roy, of course. Get well soon, Roy.

The Reagan Movie: I can only tell you one thing about why this movie isn't airing--it probably stinks to high heaven. I mean really, really reeks. Pungent odors and everything. A couple of producers and a writer thought they could string together a bunch of the ancedotes they liked to pass around at parties that made the President look bad without anybody having to actually understand anything about how the world worked, and they ended up making a stinker of a film.

With the ratings potential being as great as they were, with all the controversy surrounding the film already, there's no way CBS pulled out of this out of their own self-interest. Remember, we're talking about television here. They'll try to make Ted Danson sitcoms seem controversial to try and drum up ratings. To have actual, real live, honest-to-goodness controversy is like manna from heaven.

If the show had been at all passable as entertainment, they'd have put it on during a sweeps month and ridden the right wing radio's complaint coaster to ratings heaven. Then they'd have re-aired a "special, uncut" version two weeks later.

Controversy like this usually begin fabricated--when "The Last Temptation of Christ" came out, producers purpousely leaked script segments to religious groups to try to whip up a storm of controversy, and the religious right, like the good little puppets they often allow themselves to be, complied--to drum up free publicity on the news for films or shows with little promotional budget.

"Accidental" leaks of this type are like "accidental broadcasts" of weapons tests. You want the info out there, but you don't want anybody to know you want it out there.

But for them to pull the plug on a show with this much "Buzz"--I'm guessing the film was such a stink bomb that if they found it in Iraq, everybody would have called Bush a hero for stopping Saddam from unleashing it.

The war in Iraq: Were there weapons or weren't there? Was Saddam a threat or wasn't he? Is George leaving our troops to die, so he can get rich off oil deals?

Okay, here's the sitch: Saddam was parading around the middle east like the bad boy on the block. He'd used gas, and he gave the run around to inspectors, and all of the surrounding nations were scared to death of him, because they knew he'd used weapons before, and they were sure . . . sure . . . he had them now.

Even when they were arguing to give the inspectors more time, the opposing nations in the UN weren't arguing he didn't have the weapons. They were just saying they thought the diplomacy deserved a chance.

Everybody was sure he had the weapons. Saddam was acting like he had the weapons.

So here's the metaphor to help everybody see this one clearly. Imagine it's Columbine High School, and the administration is scared to death and wants to get all the weapons off the campus. And there's this kid, see, who may or may not have been buddies with the guys who shot everybody up last time--nobody's really sure--but now he's parading around as if he's got something to hide, reluctant to let anybody search his bags or his locker, and the kid's got a history. The administration doesn't really want to do anything, lest they get sued, security of the students notwithstanding.

So finally some kids, worried about everybody's safety, wrestle his bag away, bustopen his locker, and as he runs off, inside both the bag and the locker they find maybe a bong and some schoolbooks.

The analogy is obvious, but in case you can't tell the players without a program--Columbine is Sept. 11, the kid is Saddam, the friends are Al-Qaida. The administration is the UN, and the kids who were worried about everybody's safety were the "coalition forces."

I like this analogy a lot. It shows everything in a pretty accurate perspective. It shows the UN as irresponsible (would you stand for it if your kids school acted like this?), George Bush as courageous for standing up to them, and leaves open the only two real possibilities for what was going on with Saddam. Just like the kid in this story, he either had the weapons or he didn't.

In the case of the first option, the move was justified, because the weapons really were there all along, and if there's any criticism, it's for letting those weapons get away.

In the case of the second option, where there were no weapons--think about it. The kid was walking around posturing like he was dangerous while the memory of the real danger was still fresh in everybody's minds. Did he really expect not to get called on it? Would you really accuse the other kids of having "bad information" when they weren't acting on rumors and whispers, but on what everybody pretty much considered to be pretty common knowledge, information the guy himself was doing everything to keep perpetuating?

Even if it's true that Saddam didn't have one drop of one chemical weapon, the idea that he had them was a large part of what made Iraq the formidable force it was in the Middle East. Even if it turns out that front was a facade, it was a facade that Saddam himself was carefully constructing. Not something George W. Bush propped up so he could knock it down.

I mean come on. Use your head. If the administration had really been fabricating the mountains and mountains of evidence in order to blatantly deceive the American people, all the while knowing that once he got in, Saddam wouldn't even have so much as a bottle of cough syrup, wouldn't George W. also have come up with a few liters of Botox to plant behind a barrel somewhere, so he wouldn't end up with egg on his face?

Or, to put it in terms that Michael Moore can understand, wouldn't a fictitious President fighting a fictitious war produce a fictitious weapon of mass destruction or two?

Fact is, Saddam, at the very least, was bluffing. And bluffing in a very dangerous game. Calling him on it doesn't make Bush a liar, or an idiot, or a manipulator. It just makes Saddam a bad card player.

Abortion: There's a perfectly good, perfectly reasonable, non-controversial law on the books of every state right now that absolutely no one in America is opposed to, has never been thought unconstitutional, and which guarantees every woman in this fine nation the right to have nothing in her womb that she wants to prevent being there.

These laws are the rape laws.

I will argue in favor of the rape laws until my dying day, because I respect women and feel they have the right to choose what does and does not happen in their bodies. The rape laws say that no woman has to have anything in her womb that she did not consent to end up there.

In fact, I would even argue that, rather than facilitating more abortions, we facilitate tougher penalties, up to and including the death penalty, for rapists. Especially serial rapists.

One of the interesting things about this is that one of the supposed hypocrisies of the Right--that we oppose abortion as murder, while endorsing the death penalty--gets stood on its head.

Whenever I bring up this argument and logical flow, liberals are left arguing that its better to kill unborn children than kill people who are guilty of terrible crimes against women. The real hypocrisy becomes crystal clear.

The entire "right to choose" argument seems to have been formulated by second graders with no real working knowledge of how sex works. They act as if pregnancy can be caught, like cooties, and abortion is a convenient cootie-catcher to wipe away the inconvenience.

As absolutely un-PC and offensive as this statement is going to be to some people, I'm going to say it anyway: A woman chooses to put herself at risk of pregnancy the moment she consents to intercourse. She chooses.

So whatever other argument you may have about why abortion may be fine and natural and necessary, the argument that without it, women would be losing control over their own bodies doesn't wash. If you really want to put women back in control, you can argue for tougher rape laws.

Unions and Strikes: I'm actually not as vehemently anti-union as some might think I would be. I actually consider employees just like I would any other good or service, as anybody else should. You, as an employee, are pretty much just like the guys who make Pepsi. The guys who make Pepsi want to get as much money as possible in exchange for their product. They've got pretty much two choices for how to make more money. They can raise their prices, or they can sell more Pepsi. The problem is, people are then free to head on over and buy Pepsi.

It's the same way with you. You can either work more hours or ask for more money. The problem is, your boss is then free to find somebody else who can do the same job you're doing for the same price, since you're all just the employee equivalent of fizzy sugar water.

A union is the equivalent of an oligopoly. Coke and Pepsi get together and decide that ain't nobody going to get any more soda unless they're willing to pay a buck a can. Would anybody go for it? Should anybody go for it? Of course not. Coke remains coke, and still isn't worth a buck a can.

Now, say that since nobody wanted to pay a buck a can, Coke and Pepsi suddenly decided that, in order to teach everybody a lesson, they were going to stop making soda. No more, they say, until everybody realizes how much they miss us. Only when everybody changes their mind and decide to pay a buck a can for soda will they start making product again.

How wise does this seem? Would you, as a stockholder, put a lot of faith in the CEO if they acted like this?

So why does everybody think the Union leaders are so all-fired noble and brilliant for attempting pretty much the same strategy?

There's only one way to get more money for Pepsi, and that's to make Pepsi worth more money. If it, say, also cured cancer and regrew hair, then maybe people might ante up the extra money.

In other words, the grocer's union workers should find some way to increase the value of the work they're doing. Time it was that grocery store checking was a semi-professional job. You had to have flawless, lightening fast ten-key speed to punch up the prices of all of those items quickly and accurately, all while engaging in mindless banter with the customer.

Now, you pretty much just have to scan and scowl.

Do the grocery store clerks really think they're so irreplaceable that by standing in the parking lots they're leaving employers cowering in fear, wondering how the stores will function?

I'm sorry, but my two-year-old pretty much got it right her first try on the Barbie "Shop With Me" Cash Register.

I do feel there are unions and professional organizations that are able to exercise some leverage by unionizing, and I'm not going to deny them the right to do it.

But isn't it a little hypocritical to pick on monopolies and oligopolies as being unfair when a company is doing it, but then calling it unfair when individual people are doing it?

Actually, the person who gets screwed the most by Unions is the guy who does his job incredibly well, and competently. He ends up having to take up the slack of the less competent guy working beside him, who is making the exact same amount as him, even though he's nowhere near as good a worker.

But man, the unions sure are nice for the incompetent guy, aren't they?

Alright, today's going to come at you fast and furious. I'm going to tell you what you should think of some of the top issues in the news today. Prepare to be either enlightened or offended, depending on how open minded you are.

(Yes. This means I'm procrastinating working on my Nanowrimo novel.)

Tuesday, November 04, 2003

I'm kinda, sorta trying to do the Nanowrimo thing. I was pretty pleased with what I was writing last year, but I didn't finish, and when my computer pooted out in January, it took the half-finished manuscript with it.

Oh, who am I kidding. Half a quarter finished.

If that.

Track this year's progress here!

Or for similarly-paced action, check out the Duct Tape Cam.

Oh, and Tim, I had the exact same feeling about when they stopped airing Misfits of Science. Courtney Cox was no Linda Carter, but Lyle Waggoner couldn't shoot lightning bolts out of his hands.

From the "Why go public?" file: So PETA's latest publicity stunt is to buy a bunch of shares of Outback Steak House so they can go raise a stink at the shareholder's meetings.

For those unfamiliar with the company, OSI has been pretty strong, showing good growth this last year, and is trading higher than it ever has. The day's trading didn't show much reaction to the news, but it will be interesting to see what happens.

PETA's already made it's hit list of future companies to target.

What exactly is PETA's purpouse, anyway? A quick news search on them at Yahoo! News shows me they're trying to change a town's name, exploiting a dying magician by getting press time in his news coverage to criticize the magician's exploitation of tigers, and sending people gift certificates for brain surgery.

It seemed to me just a bunch of publicity stunts, that weren't really helping anybody or anything. However, on further examination, I discovered their real motivation; apparently, PETA gets the chicks.