Monday, August 31, 2009

Speechless Twilight


Old Friends

Latest from the Lockerbie prisoner release scandal is that British Justice Secretary Jack Straw brokered the "oil for prisoners" exchange with Libya. Makes sense. Downing Street handles UK foreign policy and used Scotland to further its own ends. Not exactly the first time that's happened. As I commented to a friend, no matter how Mother Scotland conducts herself, she always get the dirty end of the stick; it's a cosmic imperative.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Don't Watch This Drive

It comes as no surprise when we hear that President Obama keeps bad company. Shady realtors and a loudmouth preacher dogged his campaign. He recently spent five hours golfing with Robert Wolf, president of UBS Investment Bank, who, according to Amy Goodman, "agreed to pay the U.S. $780 million to settle civil and criminal charges related to helping people in the U.S. avoid taxes." Another too big to fail moment? I have to say, this doesn't exactly increase my faith in the current Prez that he is honoring his commitment to treat those who elected him (I voted for someone else) with honesty and transparency. So far he's done a lot to undermine any feeling that anyone but Big Biz (Pharma, Insurance, Banks, et al) deserves to trust him. Well, I guess those citizens who avoid paying taxes think he's pretty neat, too.

The real fallout? US Presidents can no longer tee off with impunity. This goes back to Obama's predecessor, who famously gave his opinion of war atrocities to reporters on the green followed by one of countless memorable quotes, "Now, watch this drive." If anything, President Obama has shown himself the wiser Commander-in-Chief by not holding any press conferences on the ninth hole.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

7th Draft

Next week I'll be in earnest, currently on hiatus to entertain old friends from out of town. Seriously excited for this, the seventh and potentially last draft of the manuscript. The hard slog of hammering out the plot and its various permutations is done. What remains is to shine a light in corners that remain dark and tone the language: reading should be effervescent, effortless, and it's my duty to do anything I can to keep the text from obscuring the story.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Casting Catwoman

If I were casting the next Batman film, I'd go an entirely different direction for Catwoman. The choice of Megan Fox is wrong for so many reasons, not least among them that she has no talent for acting. Pushing your lips out to here does not constitute dramatic ability. Nevertheless, someone with sensual appeal is clearly called for, which is why in my perfect world we would see either Olivia Wilde (top) or Moon Bloodgood as Catwoman: they have proven acting chops and can hold their own in a scene with Christian Bale. The very idea of Megan Fox getting vampy with Bale creeps me out something fierce, like watching your best friend's kid sister seduce your dad. Yuck!

Foxy Feline in Batman Sequel

Julie Newmar...

Lee Meriwether...

Eartha Kitt...

Michelle Pfeiffer...

...Megan Fox??? Say it ain't so!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Speechless Tuesday 2

Trailer for the new film from Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight, The Prestige):

Speechless Tuesday

From the UK Times Online

Monday, August 24, 2009

Proud to be Scottish

Imagine a nation that takes compassion on dying prisoners, by virtue of law, even. How horrendous and venal such a place must be, nothing less, to borrow a phrase, than a wretched hive of scum and villainy. To hear recent talk of Mother Scotland, you'd think it was such a pit of ill-fame.

Justice Secretary Kenny MacAskill's decision to free Lockerbie bomber Abdel Basset Ali al-Megrahi has been met with a resounding, international "Oh no, you didn't", not least among naysayers the United States. Aye, you heard right: the US is calling foul on this transgress of international law. Robert Mueller, head of the FBI, goes so far as to say that MacAskill "makes a mockery of the rule of law" and "gives comfort to terrorists around the world." He doesn't go so far as to say that this would never happen if al-Megrahi had been at Guantanamo Bay, but the implication is clear.


Mr Mueller methinks protesteth too much. Which law is being mocked, precisely -unless he means to suggest that going contrary to US wishes is to impugn justice globe-wide. Even British PM Gordon Brown can see through this shimmy vapor of an argument. "This was a decision taken by the Scottish justice secretary in accordance with the laws of Scotland," he says through a spokesman. "I don't see that anyone can argue that this gives succour." Not that this takes Brown entirely off the hook. As detailed at Caledonian Comment, the PM has been talking about Scotland's decision with Libyan leader Muamar Gadaffi for over a month. Even so, the dodginess of Mr Brown isn't exactly news to anybody, is it?

Getting back to home turf here in the US, I don't buy into the outrage against compassionate dispensation of the rule of law, especially when it is shouted out from places that vigorously pursue the death penalty, champion indefinite detention, and carry out extraordinary rendition from black sites around the world. It's a bit disingenuous to take Scotland to task for showing compassion upon a man who is expected not to survive past Christmas. How does this give comfort to agents of terror?
Was the decision linked to trade deals with Tripoli, or Britain's interests in Libya's enormous oil and gas reserves? MacAskill rejects this, quoted as saying: "It was not based on political, diplomatic or economic considerations."

He adds that, "In Scotland we are a people who pride ourselves on our humanity...The perpetration of an outrage ... cannot and should not be the basis for losing sight of who we are."

The real loser in this is Libya. Giving al-Megrahi a hero's welcome was hardly cricket. It makes mockery of the very real grief suffered by families of those killed on Pan Am Flight 103. Worse, it undermines Scotland's credibility. How sad is that? A nation takes compassion and is made to look the fool.

Nevertheless, MacAskill was right in his decision. The perpetration of outrage should never be the basis of the rule of law.

Thursday, August 20, 2009


We don't have a competitive healthcare system in the US. What we've got are insurance companies who can drop members with impunity, or deny applicants because they are or have been sick. The only competition is which company can deny coverage the fastest. Why change that?

What I don't get is these itchy, yelping folks at "town hell meetings" who want things to stay just the way they are, and are willing to believe no less than an ocean of hogwash to bolster their hysteria. Obviously these are the ones who represent our country's best interests, those who believe what they're told without reflection and have the loudest voices of dissent when our elected leaders attempt to engage the public.

Why worry about socialism, when we have mob rule?

President Barack Obama made some recent statements that go some way toward shaping the discussion. Good. He is still hedging his bets in laying out a clearly defined "road map" (to borrow a metaphor) for reform. I'm glad he is finally taking a stand against the ridiculous fabrications going around the talk show circuit, but it might be too little, too late.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Zombies don't deal in gray areas; when it comes to gray matter, there is a question of appetite (the idea of zombies eating brains was popularized with the satire, Return of the Living Dead), but ambiguity just isn't their specialty.

Maybe this is why we love them, because of an innate desire for life with no moral ambiguity. When your existence has the absolute value of consumption, things tend to get pretty simple.

The elemental nature of zombie attacks is simple, too: survivors fight back or get converted to just another face in the crowd, a death sentence in a world where death has no meaning.

Serious people are talking about our chances of repelling a zombie apocalypse, and they aren't good. This begs the question: if we desire moral absolutes, why not surrender to the horde and achieve the impossible dream?

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Speechless Tuesday

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Zombie Apocalypse

This fascination has a root cause, yet in true roustabout fashion I hesitate delving too much, in recognition that perceiving a thing changes it. Since this fascination fuels a great deal of creativity, I don't want to rationalize it out of existence. Forgive me, even so, for dabbling in the irrational.

I think back to my upbringing in the church, where the idea of being in the world but not of it was introduced at an impressionable age and iterated time and again as a basic tenet of belief. I listened to a lot of "Jesus rock" and one of my favorite albums as a pre-teen was Petra's Not of This World. From the first buds of consciousness, I was inundated with the idea of being separate from a world of unbelievers, who in my perception as a young boy of faith were the walking dead doomed to everlasting perdition.

Ah, the sweetness of youth!

I was not yet to my tenth year seeing Night of the Living Dead. What an impression that made. From the riveting image of a zombie stumbling through the cemetary, I was simultaneously terrified and fascinated. It was right out of the church handbook: this was an unbeliever, shambling along hungry for faith but settling for cannibalism.

I'm reminded of that early vision when peering from my office window. The view of docks on the Duwamish river is a playground for my mind, ships arriving from exotic ports with their freight of the undead, overrun as lumbering hordes unload and overwhelm hapless stevedores. Inexorably the mass grows, spreading out from the docks like a bloodstain and moving onto the nearby beaches and hills, inevitably reaching the bridge and starting a slow march toward our side. Despite the vastness of our office building there is no escape, as we find the exits blocked by grasping, unfettered corpses from some distant continent, in their long passage over endless oceans grown ravenous to the very pit of their rotted souls. The doors burst inward and they are upon the living, a maw of undeniable appetite that pursues every last one of us through the countless corridors of a workplace once thought impregnable from all harm.

Ah, the wonder of maturity!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Bringing the Law

Taking a breather now that draft six is done and diving into some good old, bare-knuckled research for my next writing project. I don't know for sure that it will be another novel, though to be honest I'd be surprised if it wasn't; the experience of working through the first has been grueling but so satisfying that I'm hooked. My subject for my next project will be the lawbringer himself, old man Moses.
In college I was profoundly influenced by my Russian professor. He cultivated love of literature and free thought, and inspired by example: his life and pursuits engaged with the world, exploring how to do things slightly askew from tradition. At one session he divulged to us that he had translated the book of Revelation. In crafting the text into contemporary form, he chose to color it as science fiction. This, he informed us gleefully, would excite the reader and show them the old story in a new light. How wonderfully strange, I thought as we read blurry photostats of his translation, and to this day I fondly recall his brazen approach to doing things in a non-traditional way.

Does this mean I'll paint a picture of Moses in TRON regalia? It's too soon to say, but I do find a basic appeal in updating the story of the lawbringer. What the world needs is not another hagiography of the man who came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments in his hands, nor is there a void of exodus adventures that wants filling. In these days of extraordinary rendition and daily sanctioned slaughter of innocents, we could use a reminder of what really matters. Science fiction has ever been a suitable vehicle for far-reaching and let's face it idealistic notions, and who reached further or more idealistically than Moses?

I'm also interested in Miriam. Growing up, there was rarely a mention of her, and though I knew a woman watched over her baby brother in the bulrush basket, it seemed to me it was a servant rather than a sibling. Might be this was a deficiency in my bible lessons, but as someone with a sister, this is a disservice that must be put right!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Speechless Tuesday

Every weblog has one, a day of the week devoted to... not logging. Here's mine, with special thanks to Mystery Men:

Friday, August 07, 2009

Clouds and the False Act of Watching

We want to feel as if we watch and scrutinize others, without risk of being caught and called voyeur. The honey allure of the web draws many this way. It isn't overstating the obvious to describe this as the primary appeal social networks; the ability to peek at peers anonymously through an electronic window is an irresistible component of the interwebs -or, as it will soon be called, interCLOUDS.

We are currently in the time of webs, strands and conduits woven over several decades and culminating in the last as a paradigmatic shift in human society. Recently we saw the launch of Web 2.0, an evolutionary leap forward for engines of connection. The organic blur between business and play typifies this new stage, but it doesn't represent an endpoint: we've got a long way to go before massing into what scifi author Vernor Vinge calls a "singularity"; often misattributed to Ray Kurzweil, who ratified and popularized the concept, a singularity is what we can look forward to when accelerating machine intelligence peaks.

There's another fancy phrase we should also remember: "user error". As many a programmer and techie remind us, machines are only as smart as the inputted data from users -in other words, us. Even in these heady days of social advancement vis a vis socnets and game consoles, with their increasingly sophisticated avatars, already the underlying shape of what's next can be discerned. It hinges on users.

Google calls it "cloud computing". Like a cloud precipitating wind and wet to grow, the intelligence of users gathers online. Look to and you can see a digital enclave of musicians and producers, engineers and promoters that is open to the public; it takes strength the more subscribers it can claim. This is nothing new, except inasmuch that user content is more central. In some ways, early mistakes by Myspace anticipated this shift toward users.

In the early days of socnets, Myspace distinguished itself with editable content on its profile pages. Subscribers could modify the HTML and personalize how they presented their online profile. This wasn't the original intent, and at a time when Friendster was the hub with the hits, it came over like gangbusters; a glacial shift took place attributable to users having greater interactivity with the flash appeal of their profiles. It may not have seemed so at the time, but Myspace planted the seeds of a revolutionary new approach. How revolutionary? When I look at Facebook and feel limited by the rigid structure of the newsfeed, it's as if the popular site has yet to achieve a milestone at the level of Myspace.

Editable content and deep avatar manipulation are harbingers. In short, Web 3.0 = WorldWideCloud. And what better place to be a watcher than from a cloud? You have the comforts of being in a social cluster that invites your input, even demands it, and fellow users are closer to hand and more accessible. It isn't a real act of watching when we log on, and it will not be any more real in the next phase, but it will provide the sensation that few can resist.

Target Audience

Increasingly the book feels intended for juvenile readers. Naive though it may seem, I always wanted the manuscript to find itself. There's one more draft to go, and by then it could very well be better suited for children; older readers may not be open enough, seeing that the fabulist genre is all but dead. Kids would give it a chance, or mothers and wives, who seem to have motivation for that old-fashioned masquerade called reading. They might not give much consideration to how realistic the protagonist Sally Parker comes across. So long as they can identify, that will win me an audience -right? Even if they identify with the situation, that's something; it doesn't necessarily have to be the protagonist that gives reader access.

So Long, John Hughes

"The sportos, the motorheads, geeks, sluts, bloods, waistoids, dweebies, dickheads - they all adore him. They think he's a righteous dude."

Thursday, August 06, 2009

TRON I/O Forums

For the latest news on TRON:LEGACY, take a look at the TRON I/O Forums. I was told by the administrator that this is "where we get into the nitty gritty of what's going on with the film, far more than can be accomplished on the limited Facebook forums." Check it out!

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

External Monolog

I had a conversation with a friend in the early days of cellular phones, and she expounded a theory that these portable devices are enablers of external monolog. This was before the advent of weblogging, but I think the idea fits: given a venue to express what otherwise might be bounced around in the psychodrome of one's head, folks will unload and unleash the voices once referred to as the internal monolog. That which in former centuries languished beneath the surface now finds full expression in the fin de siecle World Wide Web.

For a couple weeks I temped at a startup company whose entire purpose was to transcribe voicemails into text. Sitting in a room that would be called "airless" in the most generous terms, myself and a small cohort punched away at keyboards while legions of voice streamed into our ears. We typed out messages no more than one minute in length, ranging from lawyers' notes to affectionate asides, and converted them to emails which were forwarded to subscribers' phones. The one-to-one ratio was a limited social activity, but the basic model held true: folks offered thoughts, ruminations, arguments and reminders that would have remained unexpressed lacking the technological empowerment.

Which brings us to Facebook. More in context, we could refer to it as "Mebook".

I'm thinking specifically of an aspect in Facebook called Living Social. Replete with quizzes, questionnaires, and queries after your opinion of movies new and old, I'm at a loss what specifically is "social" about Living Social. If taken to mean that talking about personal qualities and flaunting your quirks is interactive with people around you, then this kind of "living" is indeed social. Having participated in (more than) my fair share of these, it isn't gratifying to absorb the silence that follows. Certainly there are comments that sometimes follow the publishing of results, but even when they are fun remarks from friends, the feeling I'm left with is attenuation.

Spend time around enough people and very likely you'll find that flaunting quirks does indeed amount to social behavior. What of the senses? When experiencing unique and interesting features of individuals online the transaction is conducted under a veil of silence. Visual perception alone is required. What of inflection and nuance, anunciation or even a funny accent? These are sadly absent!

Lately I've complained that people who work around me are deficient: they don't talk to themselves like I do. Why can't they engage in external monolog as fecklessly? It makes me feel lonely, as if the world were too quiet a place for true happiness.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Pleasantly Pottered

Never having seen Harry Potter on the big screen, and not even making it to the end of Alfonso Cuaron's entry, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, it was with great trepidation that I entered the theatre for his latest. My motive was superficial, to be in a cool space for two and a half hours while a heatwave raged without.

Some months ago I went to see Doubt at a local multiplex on similar grounds, battling boredom rather than heat, going in with apprehension that yet another populist entertainment was going to test my endurance. Idleness swept me in, with expectations at dirt level. A moviegoer of long standing, my patience for popular films wears thin quickly, and too often I think the worst of movies on the infrequent occasion that I make it out, falling back on a deep-seated desire for works of substance along the lines of Children of Men or The Thin Red Line. What a snob!

I was blown away by Doubt, a rousing drama and actors showcase. So much for my snobbery, which was forgotten nearly from the first frame. Can I tell you the same thing happened with Harry?

The opening didn't do much for me, so I wasn't grabbed from the first, but once done with that I was drawn in and enthralled. What starts the movie is a great contrast from the rest, conducted almost entirely with dark and pensive quiet. For long sections there is no music at all: for a film scored by John Williams, how remarkable is that? We are allowed to engage the images and characters on our own terms. In and of itself, this is a noteworthy quality to a blockbuster entertainment.

Characters populate Harry's world, not least among them the effervescent Luna Lovegood. She steals all of her scenes and embodies the strangeness of being a teenager, with its requisite mental and physical confusions. The irreplaceable Jim Broadbent does the quacky professor role great justice, and Rupert Grint has a winning charm that makes Daniel Radcliffe look stiff; to give the lead his due, we do see him loosen up later in the film, to great effect.

What really won me over was the cinematography and production design. Again, since we are not beset by a bombastic musical score, the eye drinks in tremendous beauty in every scene. Hogwart's attic in particular evokes feelings of childhood wandering through odd places where you might find any manner of wonderful object.

There is a scene that centers on eulogizing a spider. Without spoiling it, allow me to praise the whole affair, wholly macabre and touching and carried off with a fine balance of humor and pathos that represents in fine what works overall. What I expected to be ridiculous, even silly, captured my fascination and enjoyment.

Though I can honestly say this hasn't converted me to Harry's side as another in his legion of fans, it is a surprisingly good movie and greatly entertaining. I'm glad to hear that the director, Peter Yates, is on board for the next one -or I should say, "ones", since they are splitting the last chapter into two parts.