Monday, October 29, 2007

I'm Not Alone!

Thank you Stumble, I needed that.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Who is the Sky Falling On, Exactly?

I don't make political posts because, well, drop in the ocean really. There are more qualified people and places for that. I just wanted to get this out of my head because it's been bugging me.

In the Great Environmental Debate environmentalists are routinely painted as Chicken Littles, overstating the horror and doom of inaction or continued waste, etc. At worst they are exaggerating and at best jumping at their own shadows.

But then look at what is predicted by, lets call them counter-environmentalists and I think we see a far greater hysteria. Going 'green' will destroy our economy, make us live like the Amish, bring us to our knees! Won't someone please think of the children!

And they think that environmental concerns are inconsistent? Cooling/warming? But then what have we heard? Global Warming isn't happening. Well, it's happening, but it's not our fault. Well, it is our fault but there isn't anything we can do about it. Well, we can do something about it but it would destroy our economy so someone else should do something about it.


We build cities and bridges, faster than sound aircraft, cure disease, go to the moon-but the mere thought that we might just maybe find an alternative to fossil fuels is going to bring civilization to its knees?

Regardless of what you believe about global warming, fossil fuels are a finite source and renewables are, well, renewable. The upfront costs of transitioning to renewable resources is somehow insurmountable, but the back end cost of sticking with a depleting source is totally doable? Forget sustainability, in the long run it's just cheaper for a source that renews itself than it is for one that becomes more rare.

The economic argument just seems so feeble to me. Green mutual funds have outpaced the market even with our notably ungreen president in charge. Someone is making money-just not the ones who have shackled themselves to 'dirty' fuels. Where's the 'best buggy whip manufacturer' anecdote for them? They're out of date. Switching off of them won't be the end of civilization.

Sure, the alternatives are not perfect and some just are not ready. Ethanol from corn from every measure seems like a bad idea, from release of nitrates, to the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico, to what goes into producing it. But there are already bio-diverse alternatives to corn and sugar. Ultimately I don't think that there will be a single 'magic wand' solution. Maybe that's the problem, that oil was a 'single solution' and somehow we were lead to believe that without a single solution, all would be lost.

That it would collapse the sky.

Well, it won't.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Authorship in Collaborative Art

The folks over at Incertus have been having an interesting discussion regarding authorship in respect to Raymond Carver and his editor Gordon Lish. In this specific instance, authorship has a clear hierarchy in that the stories are credited to Carver but were apparently heavily modified by Lish.

It has spurred on something that's been bouncing around in my head for a while so instead of putting off my musings I thought I'd just expand the discussion here.

I have only ever worked in collaborative art forms.

As a musician I worked with bands. Sax players have a rich tradition of being a lone backdrop to a romantic evenings epilogue, and I did that for one winter, but most of my work was done as part of a band.

As a playwright my work was just a blueprint until taken up by a director, casted by actors, and designed by stage crew.

In film I always work with crew people. Often I won't even meet a lot of the people involved in the final creation of what I do. Even in works where I do most of the work, like my college documentary I still had to enlist a small group of people to get it complete.

In all of these things I have had authorship (though as a PA, close to none).

The lines I would play in jazz would be mine, no one would play them like me (as every player plays their own way). But even as a 'lead' on the band there was a recognizable difference in my own playing depending on who I was playing with. A drummer made all the difference in the world. The amazing piano and guitar players I played with in high school made me sound better than I actually was, a false confidence that was a rude awaking when playing with players who weren't able to open the changes up to follow where I wandered.

In big bands my creativity was under the final direction from the leader. But my playing was still my own and the band would not sound exactly the same with any member replaced.

In theater every play I wrote (and write) has a definite vision in my head. I can hear the voices of each character in my head and can answer as to what they are thinking and going through at any given moment in a scene. To me, it's the funnest part of writing a play for me. When a play is really 'happening' I feel like I'm just transcribing a conversation I overheard.

But consistently those expectations have been shattered when actors, directors, and set designers get a hold of it. Actors find new ways of delivering the lines, bringing life into characters that I didn't know was there. The director invariably finds some aspect of the play that fascinates her (my best directors far and away have been women) that maybe I thought was less present, and set designers have worked some interesting miracles with notoriously minimal set requirements.

Even more to the point it is inaccurate to say "I" wrote any plays. Every play has been written with Sous Rature who has put a stamp of depth to all of our works.

If asked we will both sheepishly admit (and here I am speaking a bit for him, but I think I'm right) that our most popular works had more than a little to do with who put them on. We have an immense respect and admiration for the actors that appeared in a number of our plays and tend to think any further success would necessarily involve them to the point that we often try to decide who they would play in each new work we create.

Film simply cannot be done without a small army of people, from lighting, set design, cinematographer, sound recording and design, and editing.

Stanley Kubrick believed that film needed one author in the same way that there is one composer, one writer for a novel or a poem. Film auteurship is based on the director being the film's 'author.' Producers in the Hollywood machine have often taken that credit as well. A book that came out about a year or so ago (which I can't find at the moment) argues for screenwriters being a films author.

To establish a theory of auteurship in film it became necessary for the director or producer to have a recognizable artistry in their films, something Kubrick did manage. There is no mistaking a Kubrick film.

But there is also no mistaking an Arthur C. Clarke story. Is 2001:A Space Odyssey a Stanley Kubrick work or a Arthur C. Clarke work. Kubrick did adaptations throughout his career, but in this time he collaborated on the work that he adapted.

Or for a muddier question, look at the working relationship between Spike Jonze and Charles Kaufman. Kaufman's work has been done by other directors but is still unmistakably Kaufman's. And yet there is a particular stamp to Kaufman when directed by Jonze. So who is the author, Jonze, or Kaufman?

How much of Jean-Pierre Jeunet is Jeunet and how much is cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie and A Very Long Engagement), whose visual style is evident in Across the Universe, even though credit is given in reviews has gone to Julie Taymor. That isn't entirely undeserved, elaborate set design has been part of her work. On the set the decisions were hers, as they were Kubricks, or Jonzes.

But like with the bands, these works would not have been the same with different people. Each one of them brought their authorship to the work. Without the screenplay there would be no story, without the cinematographer no one would see it, and so on.

Autuer theory came about largely because it was felt that it was necessary for films to have authors in order for them to gain legitimacy as an art form. Through school I embraced this, perhaps because I had planned (and still do) becoming a writer-director and that theory lionized my dream role.

But as of late I've been thinking that we missed a fabulous opportunity to question the idea of the single author. I have been arguing for a while (though not here) that art isn't in the conception but in the execution. It's not that anyone can think of a soup can as art but that someone did. Shakespeare borrowed liberally from other sources for his plays, but it's how he told them that makes him still studied today. If that is the case then authorship is shared by the artists who realize it.

Sorry for the rambling...I don't have this fully worked out yet. I may come back to this subject from time to time.

Monday, October 15, 2007


Not that we have in anyway lived up to the Machine premise...but really, one a day?

Who needs that kind of pressure?

Sports Fans Are Nerds

Thats right, I said it. They are nerds. And I mean it, too. Like, nerds-nnnnnneeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrdddddddddddddddssssssssss!!!! Ogre-scream nerds. Seriously. Any sort of pass they may have gotten should be immediately revoked.

Not too long ago (but long enough ago that I should have posted this by now...) I worked an event for sports fans that I tried to describe to a friend who eventually characterized it as 'like a Star Trek convention for [sports] fans.' And it hit me, she had nailed it. Not only was it not any different, in many ways it was far worse.

Look at how we would characterize a Star Trek convention and compare:

Mostly men?

Check. In fact, the sports convention fairs far worse in this category. Star Trek has a rather sizable female following, really. Comparing the women in attendance to this event to the ones I found when doing a documentary of a gaming convention in college, the sports show faired badly.


Check. Unless that large balding man is Jose Conseco...but I doubt it. At least the Sci Fi/Trek fan has the decency to admit that they are dressing up.

Eye for Minutia?

Oh yeah. The sports fan is nothing if not a repository for a list of numbers, dates, and rosters. We're led to believe that somehow knowing when and where the Klingons and Federation signed a treaty is being a total nerd ("Who knows those kind of things?") but knowing the batting average and line up of the 1954 Cubs is normal? I don't know either, but I can guess which person spent too much time in a room with not enough light on a single subject, and he isn't wearing Spock ears...

Too much time spent arguing imaginary match ups?

Bar fights have started over whether or not the 1964 Bengals could beat the 1976 Chargers (yeah sports fans, I grabbed those two out of the air. If you just exclaimed loudly, "That doesn't make any sense" or something like that, welcome to my point.) This is different than 'Is Picard a better captain than Kirk,' how?

Well, that's the crux of the difference that these devoted and deluded little nerds cling to. Sports are 'real' and therefore matter, while Star Trek, comic books, Sci Fi, etc. are works of fiction and don't matter. Because there really was a Walt Chamberlain and a Micheal Jordan, arguments about who was better in their prime are somehow more valid than whether Spiderman could beat up Batman.

Yeah, well-bullshit. There is no difference because they are both bullshit arguments. The games that Chamberlain and Jordan played were different and so were the teams. The fact that they both existed doesn't make their fantasy match up anymore of an act of mental masturbation.

In fact, the fictional characters represent different philosophies, different ideals. They are Man vs. Superman, sometimes literally. Justice vs. Revenge. Individual vs. Society. Power vs. Intellect. It's the discussion of ideas dressed up in tights with action tags. The fantasy sports match ups are just the tights.

I would argue that even though the athletes 'exist,' they matter less. They played a game, people paid a fuckload of money to watch it. Half of them won, half of them lost, and it was done every year for more and more money.

It's not my intention to just crap all over sports. A close basketball game is fun to watch. I love racing and can tell you who the top manufacturers are in number of wins at Le Mans. Sports can be fun to watch. Comics can be fun to read. Star Trek can be enjoyable to watch. But let's not kid ourselves, devotion to these things are peas in a pod.

It's no mistake that you get baseball cards the same place you get comic books.

Monday, July 30, 2007

An open apology to Terry Gilliam

I was discussing Terry Gilliam with my roommate last night, and was yammering in my usual film nerd kind of way about how disappointed I was with The Brothers Grimm. The film had seemed like Gilliam had compromised his way into one of the worst films of his career. I talked about how he really needs to stay out of the studio system, how the CGI, while fairly spectacular, distracted from the story rather than support it, as was the case with the non-CGI effects in Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (but I will also say that CGI isn't intrinsically a bad thing).

It all screeched to a halt when I realized that I hadn't actually seen Tideland, which certainly seems much more like what I was talking about as the direction Gilliam should be headed; even worse, I did pony up my nine bucks to see Brothers Grimm. It seems as though I should actually reward the behavior that I ostensibly encourage in an artist with my money, which is really about all that I can do.

So here goes--

Mr. Gilliam (in the extremely unlikely event that you should somehow come across a little-read blog by some random dude in California, perhaps while trying to find an actual sandwich machine), I have been a bit of an ass, and I will support the career and artistic freedom of one of my favorite directors by actually seeing his films. While Untitled Gorillaz Project might give me pause, I will see it, and, if I like it, I will see it again with others that I drag in by their hair if necessary; what's more, I will continue to support your endeavors, both in word and in action, as long as you keep taking risks and telling the stories that you need to tell in the way they need to be told (and I'll get around to renting Lost in LaMancha).

Again, apologies for the smug half-assery,

Sous Rature

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This Was Going to be About Something Else

It was going to be used as a symbol of our times. That we had the richest people on Earth spending millions on submarines. About, with all thats going on, the people reaping the greatest rewards are then preparing to sneak off under the sea-that it wasn't even 'conspicuous consumption' because they where keeping them secret. A secret underwater Navy of uber-rich.

It was going to be great. It was going to be speculative. It would have mocked this trend while not entirely successfully trying to mask a bit of jealousy...that while I do believe it's silly, excessive, and telling, I still would totally have a submarine if I could.

That's what it was going to be about.

Until I got to the end of the article.

As for marine life, the local dolphin population can be a problem for some submariners.

Jaubert says he has clients who wrestle with how to conduct a deep-sea love affair in front of an observation window without creating underwater paparazzi.

"Dolphins are easily excited when they sense people making love," Jones says. "They get jealous and bang their noses against the window."

The best solution? Curtains, says Jones.

Dolphins like to watch.

Suddenly everything else I was thinking about was can it compare?

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The Kids are Alright

There's this theory that I've been inflicting on just about anyone who will listen for a while now--

A good friend of mine (We'll call him B) was up from his Ph.D. work at UCR a while back, and we got into a discussion about bands using the internet/youtube/myspace to self-promote their work, and B, who looks deceptively young (he's in his early 50s, but can easily pull off mid 30s, and has a youthful vibe that makes it very hard to believe that he is exactly the same age as my stepfather), started grousing about how young people just don't have the same creativity they did back in his day (B's youth covered the end of the hippie thing and went up into early punk--he's seen all those legendary punk acts that self-destructed in the 80s). This assertion led to a bit of an argument, with me going to bat for all the young folks (being an ancient 34 myself), with the general (and chosen for maximum irony of reference) assertion that "the kids are alright."

I won't claim that I haven't had the same kind of thoughts, but aging has always had the effect of convincing us that the world is going to hell:

I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are reckless beyond words. When I was a boy, we were taught to be discrete and respectful of elders, but the present youth are exceedingly wise and impatient of restraint.

--Hesiod 700BC

All this really comes around to what's at the root of all this panic about "the direction of society." I spend a lot of time around 18-20 year olds, and they alternately impress and scare the bejeezus out of me, but the scary stuff isn't some transgression against good sense, but an adaptive response to the world in which they find themselves.

Sitting here at my computer, I have access to an effectively infinite source of information and entertainment. Let my construct a basic quasi-syllogism here:

1. There is a massive amount of information generated and pushed through this "series of tubes" on a daily basis.
2. I, and anyone else, has a finite capacity to absorb that information.
3. The mechanisms for sorting and filtering that information that we learn were developed for a very different world, where the interwebs are a novelty at most, and publishers and editors did most of the work for us.
4. Nevertheless, we all have to find a way to get what we need from the infosphere.

Conclusion: Young people (and the population at large--children and teenagers are just ahead of the curve 'cause they're doing it in real time) have new mechanisms for accomplishing the task of sifting information.

The trouble is, though, that the mechanisms at work have a few flaws that are often exploited. Basically, I think most people sort through information in two ways:

1. Plausibility--does this piece of information, on a quick examination, fit in with all the other notions I have about how the world works?
2. Repetition--have I heard this information from more than one source?

What's the danger here? Well, plausibility is vulnerable because sometimes implausible things are true because we happen to exist in a reality where our perspective tricks us (Aristotle fell for this all the time--and why Gallileo had such a rough time with the whole Earth 'round the Sun thing). This is why "counterintuitive" is one of my favorite words. It should be noted that, in our daily lives, the plausibility test is indispensable, but infoparasites can exploit it readily (maybe Walrus will illuminate us with his own investigation of the Air National Guard document forgery scandal--it's exactly what I'm talking about). Walrus and I spend a lot of time generating plausible bullshit; the difference, though, is that we make it clear that it is BS from the beginning. Repetition can be summed up in three words: talking points memo. If a small (or large) group of insiders can just get part of the media to reinforce the same idea, often phrased exactly the same way ("hatefest" being one of my favorites--"war on christmas" is another), then a lot of people are simply going to accept it as true. It's a rigged game, and we'd all better twig to it sooner than later.

The thing is, though, that I can't blame people, especially those who grew up in this kind of environment, for responding this way; it's not as though we can all be Thomas Jefferson any more and have the bulk of recorded knowledge in out parlours. We can't put the toothpaste back in the tube, and traditional methods of critical thinking are like insisting that people use a toothpick to deal with all that paste as it oozes out on the bathroom counter at an accelerating rate.

Now comes the hard part:

I have no idea how to deal with this problem. We all need to think hard and come up with a way of getting through all this info that is simultaneously more accurate, more reliable, and more efficient, because anything else is going to get its ass kicked by the sorting method described above. Thoughts?

Friday, July 06, 2007

Cover Battle

There were times when I worked at the record store that things like this would go through my mind. In fact, this guy may have animated my nightmares...

Thursday, June 28, 2007

It's Not Enough to Shoot Fish in a Barrel...

By all measures I give Comedy Central shows far more consideration than they deserve. Outside of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, there are far more misses than there are hits. Even, to me, South Park is spotty, though I do enjoy Reno 911 and The Sarah Silverman Show.

Actually, that's not bad for one network.


No doubt conservatives are whining about Li'l George. I can tell them right now they can relax. If anything it proves that it's not enough to just make fun of GW Bush, it has to be funny, and man does this show not deliver.

In some confusing hybrid world, George Senior is in charge, but we're still in our current war. Li'l George runs around with equally bad caricatures of Cheney, Rice, and Rumsfeld.

They are characterized with such 'insightful' strokes as Cheney mumbling/growling out indistinguishable sounds marked with key Cheney quotes while the people who he's talking to interpret as brutal suggestions. Just a note, self-effacing Jon Stewart occasionally doing Penguin imitations when talking about Cheney is funny, the cut rate Evil Kenny, not so much. Having Cheney's father being Darth Vader is less than one note.

Rumsfeld is of course abused by his father.

Rice is naturally in love with Bush. This wasn't funny when it was Janet Reno and Clinton (and at least Clinton had the ladies man rep) and it's not funny here. As usual for the cartoon style they're using, Rice is the smartest of the group, but this is of course blinded by her love for Bush.

Tonight's episode of course used "Li'l Blair" to imply the British are homosexual in a half assed attempt to parody the Bush administration's homophobia. Ultimately it boils down to little other than "Ha ha, the Bush administration hates gays." We know. You have to try harder (they even missed opportunities to play with hypocrisy and tough situations with Cheney, instead having him follow Barrack Obama when George is off playing with Blair, making Obama interchangeable with Carter...)

Nothing about this show digs deeper than a surface level understanding of the situation. Truth be told the humor wouldn't be affected if the connection to the real life characters wasn't there, which is to say that it still wouldn't be funny. There is no insight to it, it's no more insulting than a fifth grader calling a sixth grader stupid.

What it comes down to is satire is hard, even when what you're satirizing seems like an easy subject. And this phoned in attempt does not succeed. The sad thing is that given divided world we live in a crappy show of this nature actually ends up reflecting bad on me and others who put a little effort in making fun of this administration.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Last Man on the Internet: The Sitdotcom

Sometimes I feel like my grandma on the Internet, the last to know anything and stunned by something like blinking banner ads.

I feel extra stupid for only now becoming aware of the sitdotcom, which as you can see there has it's own tag. (To give you an idea of how grandma I am on the Internet, I'm not even sure what does, except that it seems similar to Stumbleupon.)

Fortunately the term is new enough that Google thinks I misspelled listdotcom, but still. This is something that I should have known about, but I was only vaguely aware. I know about, Channel 101, and the various series bumping around the internet, but I wasn't aware that they had evolved to the level that they had.

Matt Kirsch, who I've also never heard of, has a pretty good primer on what they are and asks some good questions about where they might go. I came to his article after I Stumbled Upon its subject, Clark and Micheal, a dryly funny mockumentary style show in the mold of The Office about two young aspiring screenwriters that stars Michael Cera (George Micheal from Arrested Development) and his friend Clark Duke (from the upcoming Superbad.)

It might be obvious why I dig that show, and that means I fall into a category that Kirsch suggests, being someone who is interested in the media-or in this case specifically someone who works with another writer aspiring to be screenwriters.

But let me explain why it's so brilliantly funny, even though it still won't prove Kircsh wrong in any way.

The characters are all high ambition. The first episode has them showing up at a studio gate trying to sell the script to Ted Turner himself. They do manage a meeting with a head from an ABC Family clone channel (played by another Arrested Development alum).

Thing is, I know these guys. In fact, fear of actually being these guys has been a bit of a shackle around me and Sous Rature's ankles since the beginning. I've talked to former classmates about their ambitions, what they're working on, and it's not shorts, or crew positions. Well, not the ones who are working, anyway. They're working on pitching their own TV shows, and I shit you not, trying to start their own channels. When you look at the resources that they bring to such endeavors, the Rocket to Mars starts to become insignificant to explain the gap between ambition and ability to execute.

But how different are they from me? I no more know how to raise the money for my short than I know what to do with it once it's filmed. If I'm going to have an unachievable dream, why not have a fantastic one? Certainly, shorts get made every day, hell five a week are made on FOX's On the Lot) and even Paramount couldn't successfully mount a whole new channel. Maybe they've been talking about these new internet channels and I was just too much of a Luddite to know. Somehow, I doubt it.

But watching Clark and Michael go through their downs and downs, it's like watching a baby eat and re-eat a lemon and knowing exactly how that goes. Sort of a 'there but for the grace of god' type thing.

But even without that, it's a pretty funny show. So watch it. Eventually, after I've watched a few more of these things, I might have something more interesting to say about them.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

General Bitching

The purpose of this blog entry is just to publicly announce that I am a serious stress monkey at the moment, and thus, not especially engaged here. just a short list:

1. I am moving. My roommate is being awesome about it, and knowing the other stuff on this list, is not bitching me out for taking my time even though he is so jazzed about the whole thing that we're already half moved and our last day here is Saturday.

2. I am teaching seven classes, and will be going up to eight next week (four is full time for a teacher). I can handle it, and the money next month is gonna seriously rock.

3. Almost everyone I know is having some crisis or another, including my brother, who may actually be spending time in jail due to a Dukes of Hazzard style feud with a local cop in Southwest Oregon, and my parents can't help out financially because they are strapped due to a number of their own misfortunes.

4. My dad wants his laptop yesterday, and the purchase a computer by committee thing is driving me crazy, especially when people assume that I've dropped the ball when I don't jump on it instantly given all the other shit going on in my life.

5. I have a succession of houseguests (all of whom are absolutely welcome and should not take this venting as any kind of hinting around) that started when the move did and will continue through the end of next month.

6. Walrus and I are supposed to be writing a play, and it's just not happening (despite numerous breakthroughs and Walrus's being extremely understanding about it all despite his own personal crises).

7. I am trying to undertake a major personality/lifestyle/philosophy overhaul, and it really can't wait.

8. Student loan people have come a-knockin' along with various other creditors and obligations that are all manageable, but a huge hassle nonetheless.

9. I should be asleep right now.

Anyhow--sympathize, mock, whatever, but I probably won't notice in my general fugue until it's over--see you all when I see you.

Sous Rature

Monday, June 25, 2007

Tagged as Well

Incertus hit me with this. I don't know 8 bloggers, and the ones I know who haven't already hit by this I don't think even check here anymore...but what the heck.

1. All right, here are th rules.
2. We have to post these rules before we give you the facts.
3. Players start with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
4. People who are tagged need to write their own blog about their eight things and post these rules.
5. At the end of your blog, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names. Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

So, lets see...I'm really nothing but random facts.

1. Sour Rature and I's first play was actually named by Brian at Industrial Disease. It was supposed to be about two guys who have a series of cool adventures only to find out each time that it's just them on the couch talking about doing it. It changed. (I still like that idea though)

2. My legs bend backwards at the knee. Like a lot, I can walk that way.

3. I grew up competing against a future professional athlete whose dad remembered me when I met him last year on a shoot. I'm in a promotional video of theirs.

4. All my furniture was obtained free off Craiglist, including my 50" TV.

5. I started losing my hair around the age of 17-18

6. My mom, since birth, has thought I was going to be an oceanographer for no discernible reason.

7. Around Jr. High (and I'm just now remembering I used to do this) I would write letters to people who did things I thought was interesting asking them how I could do it or if I could get advice. About half of them would get responses. More often than not I got sales brochures. Which, since I was in Jr. High, I thought was cool anyway.

8. The entire time we've known each other, me and Sous Rature have worn the same size pants, and our sizes have changed since we've known each other. I don't know how he's going to feel about that one, but I was stuck.

So, I can't tag the folks at Incertus, so I have to tag Sous Rature as soon as he finishes his move, Brian at Industrial Disease, Micheal(NSFW) if it's appropriate on his blog, though I don't know if it is since it's a place for his black and white photos, and Ipse Dixit should she feel the urge. To make up the difference, any unblogging readers can post 8 in the comments. I know you're out there...or I hope you are. Jeff, I'm looking at you. Oh crap, I just remembered the cats over at The Manwich Machine...that should

Or something.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Rise of the Lobots

My brother is the latest victim. More and more fall victim everyday as Bluetooth becomes more standard on peoples mobile phones. They have become Lobots.

It's not that I have anything against hands free devices for the phone. The VWs would be way too hard to drive and hold a phone to my ear at the same time. And there isn't anything really more noble about having a wire hanging from your ear than just the little Bluetooth phone ear piece.

The difference is when it's in the ear and they're not talking to anyone.

Clearly the mobile phone is no longer the symbol of the mover and shaker that it once was, mobile phone ownership now is taken as a given. So what is the average poser to do? Apparently wear their ear piece as a constant accessory as they go about their business regardless of whether or not they are actually on the phone.

Nevermind that it makes them look like Lando Calrissions lakey...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Sandwich Idea

Haven't had one in a while, well, one that made it to the blog.

I was watching Saturn's new test drive challenge, and while I admire the balls of that I thought the idea of a centralized test drive system is a great idea.

It would be kind of like rental agencies, where you pay a fee to test drive cars. What you get is the ability to test drive several cars in the same category at one stop without the pressure of having a sales person pushing the car on you. For a small fee you get to do your own comparison test.

There are problems I can see with it that whoever goes for the sandwich would have to solve. It'd be hard to get the cars, companies are likely to want you to be on the dealership when they test those cars so that you're more compelled to buy them. So there is a huge overhead to have a good selection of cars on hand for test drives unless you can convince the manufacturers that having cars there is in their best interest and loan them out like they would for magazine test drives.

Slimest Silver Lining Ever

What's My Blog Rated? From Mingle2 - Free Online Dating
I saw this over at Incertus.
This rating was determined based on the presence of the following words:

* fucking (6x)
* shit (5x)
* fuck (3x)
* dangerous (2x)
* hurt (1x)

I think my rant about the bastard piece of shit vandals saved us from the indignity of a 'G' rating.


Monday, June 18, 2007

Best Finish

I know that no one who reads this (all two of you) is a racing fan, but I am. Specifically, endurance sports cars. I don't know what it is about them, but I can't get enough. This weekend was the running of the premiere endurance sports car event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, where the Audi R10 TDI repeated last years dominance. Even with smaller tanks, the diesel powered sports car prototypes (Peugeot entered a diesel powered 908) ran away from the petrol powered prototypes.

While this isn't remarkable in and of itself, since the petrol powered Audis have ran away from the other prototypes as well, the R10 has run faster times than the petrol powered R8, striking a pretty good blow for diesel power.

And this is part of what I like about racing, and something that I think it has lagged a bit on or a while but is getting better.

Racing, while always about being faster than the other car, is also about 'improving the breed.' Races like The Indianapolis 500 were a test of engineering that brought us things like the rear view mirror and the seatbelt.

With things like peak oil and global warming, it's time for racing to prove its relevance. The diesels at Le Mans is part of that (note in the linked article about the particle filters on the Peugeot). The Indy Racing League now uses nothing but Ethanol, and Rahal/Letterman will run a Porsche RS Spyder that runs on street legal ethanol (I couldn't find an article specifically about that, though I did find one about the greening of Porsche). Granted ethanol is not my favorite solution, largely because of the US' insistence on using corn and the way we farm corn.

In 1998, small American auto manufacturer Panoz even tried to enter a hybrid Le Mans racer, years before the astounding success of the Toyota Prius.

As a racing fan and someone concerned about the environment at the same time, this kind of thing is encouraging. If racing can take the lead in changing things for the better then there might still be room for finishes like this (keep in mind that this last lap comes after twelve hours of racing. The fireworks going off gives a neat video game feel to the finish):

Sunday, June 17, 2007

I Want One (part one million)

Now that that is out of my system (because of course piece of shit vandals read blogs...sigh)

There is an interesting 'unofficial' history of the laugh track at TV Party. It's a bit kinder to the laugh track than I would be, as I see it as one of the great abominations of the sitcom and am stunned when new sitcoms employ them.

I had previously believed that it was Desi Arnaz' introduction of the three camera studio shooting that tacitly gave birth to the laugh track, and while I'm not entirely wrong, it is a bit more complex than that. (I'm a little bit of research away from doing a Desi Arnaz appreciation post).

But the best part, and why I bring it up, is this:

All of these tracks were then installed into a device known as, appropriately enough, a laugh machine.

This 28-inch-high apparatus resembles an organ, having 10 horizontal and four vertical keys and a foot pedal. The engineer "orchestrates" the laugh track by using the keyboard to select the type, sex, and age of the laugh, while playing the foot pedal to determine each reaction's length.

I must have one of these.

Open Letter to the Prick(s) Smashing the Windows on My Bus

What the fuck?

Seriously, what the fuck is your problem you little piece of shit?

I want to know what the fuck is going through your feeble fucking mind that you're getting entertainment out of breaking other peoples shit.

Do you think I have nothing better to spend my money on than to replace windows on a car that I intended on using all next month while I sorted things out on The Lego?

Even as a pacifist, you better fucking pray I never catch your fucking ass. Even I don't want to know what the result of the blind fucking rage will be, you worthless fucking piece of repugnant shit.

Three fucking nights, six windows including the two windshields. Hope, hope the police catch you, because I am likely to beat you within in an inch of your worthless pathetic little life.

Friday, June 15, 2007

The Olive Branch

I am left handed.

This, I believe, is the reason I have always been subjected to collaborative art forms. The handy, the crafty, their skills where harbored and encouraged by abundant equipment tailored to their use and the pointy scissors. If there where more than two 'lefties' in the class we had to wait in line for the privilege of using the left-handed blunt 'safety scissors.' Never mind the tacit implication that I was a dangerous 'other' that might hurt myself or others while cutting out my construction paper turkey, I was normalized to expression that took other people to pull off.

It might be a stretch to use scissors as an explanation as to why I don't even attempt to write straight prose, but I still say it is part of an ingrained mind set.

So even in my earliest writing desire, comic books, I needed someone else to see anything I created to completion. Even in music I chose to play a horn, which unless I want to be the colorful backdrop to someone's romantic city evening, I need the rest of the band to do anything. I never had that roll-up-your-sleeves one man band ability of the rockers, I need a group of other people with me to play.

Theater and film have been even worse. The man power to film even the simplest of things would make a pretty decent sized band, and theater is no better. In studying both I've always been jealous of the techies who have studied with me. They learned the lighting, they wired the sound, they built the set. They gathered the cameras and the steady cams and built the equipment they couldn't get otherwise and seemed to have an unlimited ability to churn out work after soulless work.

And that's the thing. So often it simply wasn't that inspiring to watch. I would feel bad criticizing it, after all, they managed to get their stuff up while my stuff remains a simply talked about 'masterpiece,' but still, some of that stuff is really really bad.

And I held, in my head, that if the artists could just get their act together we could turn out something really cool.

Enter my current gig. For professionalisms' sake I won't say what show I'm working on, but it's a theater production where I am in the tech role that I actually do know how to do thanks to the demands of small theaters. This particular show is being put on by artists, the director is a playwright (not the playwright for this), the designers are also writers or other aspects of theater artists that are filling the roles. I have come in at the end to operate the show and now I see the error of my ways.

The truth of the matter is that techs are able to do so much work because, as Sous Rature put it, the techs are the ones who put on the show. They can do it without us, but it is much harder for us to do it without them. And it shows.

One without the other is a show that either looks good but isn't, or a show that could be good but looks horrible.

There needs to be a truce. I can see how the techs get frustrated, they want to get to it. They know what has to be done, they have the toys or creative solution and they want to get to building it so they can get to the next problem to solve. Waiting for a 'creative type' to get his or her act together and put something together to make can be numbing.

Alternatively, for the creative types dealing with the techs can be difficult. It's 'our baby' and they need to be able to just look in our heads and translate that thing that we don't even have the vocabulary to describe. We end up thinking, "Why can't they do what I want them to?"

The reality is that what they do is creative, and we need to allow them to add their creativity to what we do. And, this si important, recognize a limitations when they tell us there is one. These guys love coming up with solutions, if they can't do something we have to recognize that it's breaking their hearts a little.

And the techs have to realize that we're good at what we do, and what we do, while it might seem simple, sometimes takes time and if given time will be a better project to work on.

So, as a non-tech creative type, I'll make this pledge. I promise that I will do my best to get my projects together in a timely manner. This is for me as much as anything. I will recognize that tech is a creative process and they know what they are doing and are necessary to bring my stuff to life. I will no longer be jealous of their ability to put on shows at will.

After all, it's what they do.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

How "300" Helped Me Understand Musicals

That's right. The film version of Frank Miller's 300 led me to an understanding about musicals.

I'll say that even with my fresh understanding of them, I'm still not so much a fan. But the obstacle, the same thing that many people have with musicals now makes sense to me. And it came thanks to one of the least musical movies ever.

Or is it?

300 is a fantastic telling of a real story, to a degree. And it's in that degree that I found my understanding.

Miller or director Zack Snyder is not leading us to believe that the Persians had giant men chained up as a secret weapon, or that King Xerxes was 9' tall and sounded like the bad guys from Stargate. For comics it has been common for quite some time. Comic books, because of the medium, has always had a degree of impressionism to it. (Footnote on this to follow)

But one of the age old arguments for film was whether or not it represented 'reality,' or what was the real. "Seeing is believing" has guided the audiences expectation in film, or that has been the conventional wisdom of film theory, at least one side of it. The other, springing from the Melies films vs. Lumiere and Edison films that were more or less documentary.

The realism restriction, that expectation of audience, has pretty much dominated. But I think thats selling audience short by making excuses for when the audience doesn't seem to follow that need. All the way back to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari there have been impressionistic films. Audiences are more than willing to accept fantastic setting, from the films of Tim Burton or Terry Gilliam or Jean-Pierre Jeunet. These are theatrical pieces, magical reality.

Theater has never really had a problem with this and since the inception of the musical has churned them out non-stop. But for film consetions like "it's a dream" in films like Chicago or The Wizard of Oz, or the "Backstage musical" (there's not even a Wiki page on that...weird), essentially a music set 'backstage' at a musical hall so people singing was proper. Never mind that Busby Berkeley's numbers couldn't take place on any stage. Or that musicals became popular as soon as films got sound. But the wisdom was that the audience still expected the film to be 'real.'

It doesn't even hold true if you look at the body of films made that a film has to be a story of what happened in the literal sense, that notion of 'reality.'

So if I can accept a 9' King Xerxes why can't I accept people breaking into song? My problem was trying to establish the 'reality' of setting. Trying to understand a 'world where people suddenly break into song.' That's not it, anymore than the family is supposed to be feasible in The Royal Tenenbaums. With all the fantastic things that we will allow in a film, song seems mild considering the other extravagances of film. The trick is not trying to relate it to what 'really' is happening. Nothing, it's a story. Even when it 'really happened' it's not a matter of what really happened.

Footnote On Comic Adaptations

300 had another discovery for me in it. That was with its obvious comparisons with the other comic book movie out at the time, Ghost Rider. One, as already discussed, abandoned the notion of reality almost all together, shot entirely on a set with the style and look of the film stamped on every frame. Ghost Rider instead took the chopper riding flaming skeleton demon and shoe horned him into 'our world.' It's actually a bit surprising that this mistake is still happening. The film that jump started this rather long run of comic book films, Tim Burton's Batman, created an art deco out of time Gotham, an impressionistic world in which a man in a bat costume could emerge and not be out of place. The mistake that happens in Ghost Rider type adaptations is trying to bend as few rules of realism as possible. However, they should be looking at once you've crossed a certain threshold all bets are off.

There are degrees. Spiderman has as part of his identity New York as his backdrop, and to that he is anchored to a degree of the 'real.' But really, they should be looking with the barest amount of real they need. After all, audiences seem to follow Wizard of Oz just fine. And I think more of the audience than to excuse it as, "It's just a dream."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Motivation Through Public Shaming

To break from the essays we finally started writing, to talk about the other kind of writing we haven't done enough of by a long shot.

That being script writing, me and Sous Rature's initial collaboration. (Well, actually, our first collaboration was a fake news magazine of a sci fi universe for a rather unique club, but anyway...). We haven't managed a new work in quite some time in spite of having come up with what I think are some pretty good ideas.

Enter Script Frenzy. It's like that National Write a Book Month, but for playwrights and screenwriters. And we've entered.

The possibility of public shame has been one of our chief motivating factors so I thought I'd announce our attempt here.

So you know if at the end of the month if we for some reason don't mention this again, we failed.

We haven't selected the story yet, and seeing as the month started today that's not a good sign. But in all reality the bulk of the writing will be done in the last week of June anyway no matter what our intentions are.

Hopefully this will jump start us again. I'm beginning to really hate Reality Shows.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

It's not so much that we agree, but why we agree

Over the last several months (or maybe it's a bit more like years), a friend and I have been in a prolonged debate. It started when I saw What the Bleep do We Know? with him and his wife; anyone who knows me more than casually know that this movie drives me absolutely up the wall, and it started that night. It was a parade of nonsense that was built on a foundation of massive equivocations mixed in with some mild misinterpretations of quantum physics and history and a major dose of new-new-age pseudopsychological mumbo-jumbo. Ever since, these two friends have regularly baited me (although in no way that inspires animosity or an urge to dislike or ridicule them) into discussing these "laws of attraction."

Some of you might have twigged to the fact that this is all related to The Secret, and my specific views on that book and its popularity are summed up by someone else here. Anyhow, in the course of this exchange, I did, in the interest of intellectual honesty, concede that there is a vague and roundabout sense in which it is true--thinking about owning a Porsche has a discernible effect on the likelihood of one's actually owning one (look no further than the Walrus for validation there); however, that's simply a truism, and obvious conclusion that emerges from a mature understanding of cause and effect and the role of planning in achieving goals, not a magical formula for getting the universe to serve up your heart's desire on a silver platter. I can envision jumping off my roof to the moon every day, and there will be no measurable increase in the likelihood of that happening (that is, admittedly a bit of a strawman, but try out acting as though you have already won the Megamillions jackpot and see how much money that gets you). Positive thinking and visualizing goals are certainly important facets of realizing those goals, and I am certainly focused more on that kind of thing lately than usual (my existential crisis of the moment isn't worth getting specific about, but it has certainly been a major concern of late), but only to the extent that they influence me to try to do the things that I want to do.

What really concerns me here, though, is the why. Why someone holds a certain belief or takes a certain course of action is often the overriding concern for me. Are American Evangelicals really allies to the state of Israel if they only support its existence because it must exist to fulfill the end-time prophecies of Revelations? I would certainly be uneasy about accepting their support knowing that they were just keeping me around because there have to be some Zionists in the lakes of fire.

My friend asks me why I get so worked up about The Secret and What the Bleep... when I agree with the basic principle at the root, but not with the metaphor used to make the point. I guess that's why he studied engineering (then became an organic kiwi farmer) and I studied literature. I see metaphors as dangerous things to be handled with extreme caution. People who don't think much about words in and of themselves are often in danger of conflating the metaphor with the thing it represents--see John 6:51-56. The Eucharist seems like a bizarre misinterpretation of an interesting philosophical idea (albeit one that holds nothing for me), and Karma isn't really what Earl Hickey thinks it is, or the active, seemingly conscious force for good that the writers of the show make it out to be (I do think that My Name is Earl is a fascinating exploration of the concept told with great humor and intelligent writing; it's even more so in light of the season finale). I don't think that there are a lot of people out there who take the show literally, but I don't think that Jesus (if he existed as an actual historical personage) was betting on people "literally" eating his flesh and drinking his blood on a regular basis, either.

The road taken seems at least as important as the destination.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

"Hank, As I Like to Call Him"

Sous Rature and I grew up with the piano player on this album. He's easily one of the most interesting cats either one of us have ever known. I had a chance encounter with him after 9/11 where he was his typical low key self. He hadn't mentioned this album, just that he had strained his hands while playing in New York because the session musicians where giving him a hard time for playing 'too white.' While his injuries healed he did some freelance work in what I believe was international banking (his degree from UC Berkeley, making him one of the only musicians I've known whose 'back up' was really just a back up.) His work at the time had him working at the World Trade Center, just not that day. When I saw him he told me in his usual deadpan manner, "New York is trying to kill me, I'm coming back to California."

I remember forming various jazz groups with him in high school when we both had the dream of being cool, kick ass jazz musicians. During a rehersal for a graduation concert he showed me a biography about Henry Mancini he was reading, or "Hank, as I like to call him." Again, in his total deadpan with only the slightest hint of wry smile.

His playing has the same kind of subtlty. I haven't heard this album yet, literally seconds ago Sous Rature told me about it, but I'm guessing that that's what you'll find here. My only regret is that I was living in the East Bay when this was recorded, I would have loved to see this live.

Of the group of us in high school, there are only two of us left to not live up to our expectations.

I better get to work.

Friday, May 11, 2007

Lonesome Rhodes, Howard Beale, (The Life of) Brian, and Stephen Colbert

I have been watching Stephen Colbert and The Colbert Report, like many people, from when it was simply a prank promo on The Daily Show. It has been one of those phenomenons that lit off on from the first episode with the headline coining of (the popular use of) the word "truthiness." It has been a tour de force, he has been passed around YouTube, discussed on the pundit shows he mocks, and thousands of people sit ready to mobilize at his very whim. His influence is such that people go on just to be mocked to show they have a sense of humor, in the hopes that they will be considered 'in' on the joke.

But the joke is what has gotten me thinking. The Colbert Report and the character he plays on that show is a send up of the cult of personality that builds up around the self important pundits that make up the bulk of the programing of the 'news' networks. When he did a bit on Wikipedia, inviting viewers to change the entry on elephants, the response was so overwhelming that Wikipedia had to change how entries where done and he mobilized viewers to have a bridge named after him (he was later disqualified because he didn't meet a primary condition, he was still alive).

And this, I imagine, is a bit of problem for him. He has stated in interviews that he is troubled that people might not be able to separate the character of Stephen Colbert from the performer Stephen Colbert. It is arguable that a larger cult has built around Colbert than around the personalities that he is parodying.

There are a trilogy of films about the rise of media sensations, probably the most notable of these being the 1976 Sidney Lumet movie Network. In it a frustrated and suicidal anchor, Howard Beale, tells people he will kill himself on his next broadcast. In his tyraid he asks the people watching to go to their windows and scream at the top of their lungs, "I'm mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it anymore" (a moment referenced by Jon Stewart where he asks his viewers jokingly to go to their windows and scream, "Be reasonable!").

A cult builds around the ravings of Beale and the network begins a cynical exploitation of his popularity. It is a theme repeated from the 1957 Elia Kazan movie, A Face in the Crowd where a down-home folky drifter Lonesome Rhodes(a very un-Mayberry Andy Griffith) has a cult built up around his 'straight talk' and simple wisdom. Like in Network his popularity is cynically exploited, with Rhodes buying in and slowly corrupting himself. (it is the source of the cliche of someone switching on the feed during a public figures candid moment, a moment that has become prophetic in todays world of inexpensive camcorders and YouTube, such as the "macaca" incident.)

In both these films, and in Spike Lee's tribute/update Bamboozled, the cult of personality that surrounds the men overwhelms and ultimately destroys them. There is a scene in Monty Python's Life of Brian where the mob has mistaken Brian for the messiah and wait outside his bedroom. He addresses them, telling them that they are individuals, to which they chant back, "We are individuals!"

I begin to wonder if this is the trap that Stephen Colbert is heading for. I wonder if we might become so enraptured in the joke that we forget the joke itself. If the character of Stephen Colbert might eclipse the man, Stephen Colbert. He's not in danger of believing his ability as a king maker, like Lonesome Rhodes, I don't think. Nor having his anger and exploitation eat him from the inside like Beale (that fate, it seemed, was saved for Dave Chappele). But he seems already shin deep in the quicksand of Brian. In an attempt to ridicule the rhetorical messiahs he is in danger of becoming one. He has a keen sense of irony, an awareness and ability to build character. From interviews there is a sense that he understands the needle he threads with his egotistical, perhaps maniacal alter ego.

But do we? I don't want to be in that position of underestimating the public at large, that sort of self satisfied "Why's everyone stupid but me?" kind of notion. But I can't help but think that we have a tendency to martyr the prophets, and while I think he might be able to appreciate the irony of it all, I'd hate to see his end accompanied by the cheerful whistle of Eric Idle while he dies for our foibles.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Thoughts on Capitalism

A few months back, I came to the conscious conclusion that I had been skirting the edges of for years: I am not a capitalist. The really odd thing was that this was actually hard to come to terms with than my much earlier declaration of atheism; this was troubling. It even turns out that it's harder to talk about than atheism--reactions are weird and unpredictable. For the sake of my own clarity, I'm going to hash out the basic reasoning for my position in this public forum.

Smith's invisible hand is, I think, born out of a form of the naturalistic fallacy. I think that he was basically mistaking the movement of a dynamic system (the relationship between supply and demand, for instance) toward an attractor with what must have looked to a person of his time (the Enlightenment) a lot like intention. We now know that rapid convergence of complex systems on points of equilibrium is basically a consequence of mathematics.

To put it more simply, the fact that the math works in a free market doesn't mean that that math necessarily produces the best result for all individuals. This assumption is so embedded in our culture that it is difficult for people to conceive that it might be otherwise.

Another basic issue here is that I agree with the premise that people operate out of a place of self-interest (Matt Ridley's The Origins of Virtue captures my basic POV here), but this is, to some extent, an argument against systems that encourage capitalistic behavior. It's akin to legislating breathing or sexual attraction. People simply cannot be stopped from seeking their best advantage, and need no further incentives to do so. In fact, I would go even so far as to say that one of the most important functions of government is to mitigate the excesses and abuses that self-interest engenders. Capitalism becomes a problem when people start treating it like something that has to be defended or encouraged.

I was debating with an Alex-Keaton-like student of mine who loves to talk economics with me after my composition class. He's young, well read, and completely wrong in the way that a middle class straight white male is uniquely attracted to. I enjoy the discussions, even when they keep me from grading papers that are long overdue, and I hope that the perspective that I bring will eventually sink in. Anyway, I compared capitalism to fire in a kind of extended analogy today (and do let me know if I take this one further than is warranted). A fire is a good thing--it warms your house, cooks your food, and destroys your incriminating documents; however, there is a clear limit to its utility, and its growth must be checked and its fuel limited. If fire threatens to consume a house, we don't simply say "let's make an adjustment and only add half a log and see if that saves that house." We douse that fucker with all the water we've got until it's back where it belongs.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Critical Validation

Some years ago (1999, in fact), I had a theory about the film American Beauty. It was basically that there was a film hidden inside the film, that something else was clearly going on aside from light pedophilia, suburban potsmoking, self-actualization, and mystical plastic bags. The video segment that was the first shot of the film suggested that the tapes were significant in that they constitute the only hard evidence that investigators of Lester Burnham's murder would turn up, and that they would construct a seemingly airtight case against Ricky Fitts and Lester's daughter Janie. What kind of shocked me was that, at the time, nobody else seemed to be talking about that dimension of the Oscar-winning film (I must admit that film critic bars are spread rather thin in Sacramento, and I didn't make any special effort to comb the internet for others who shared my view, so this might be old hat for IMDB message board types--scratch that--just checked the aforementioned, and no mention).

Anyhow, that's just kind of the first part of what I'm getting at here. As someone who spends a lot of time picking media to pieces (just ask my friends about the subtlety of the Slowsky Comcast ads or the Geico cavemen (probably another blog about that whole thing in the near future)), I can sometimes second guess myself into thinking that I'm seeing something that isn't there. The other side, though, is that, if my opinions and interpretations of media/texts is just smoke and mirrors, then why did I spend twelve years in college learning how to do it? If I had studied engineering, I wouldn't be forced to admit that maybe my bridge is no better than anyone else's, but the general perception is that there's a very short journey from literacy to literary criticism, and it just ain't so. It's this kind of intellectual timidity on my part that got me into a weeks-long debate with a friend who denied that there was Christ symbolism of any kind in Cool Hand Luke; I value intellectual honesty, but there's got to be a point at which it's not necessary to painstakingly consider each and every opinion regardless of its source.

On to the validation part.

I recently bought American Beauty on DVD (a long-overdue purchase, considering how much I like the film), and sat through the commentary track narrated by Alan Ball, the screenwriter (of Six Feet Under fame); and Sam Mendes, the director. Right out of the gate there was a mention that the original first scene of the film was a courtroom scene in which Ricky and Janie are convicted of Lester's murder, but that it was removed because it didn't match the direction that the studio wanted from the film (I guess it would have been a bit more like Sunset Boulevard than it already is). What I think is great is that the first scene gives a hint toward decoding the original story from what was actually released without compromising the film that it ultimately became. I don't know which of the two creative influences on the movie pulled that off, but I feel a lot of gratitude to whoever it was.

It's nothing new, really. There's even a name for stuff like this in art studies, much like the roman a clef, or "story with a key," in which historical or controversial events Primary Colors is a great recent example, but Kerouac's On the Road is another good one. I thought I might even be on to something (I get a cool kind of buzz when there might be some neat new idea out at the edge of my awareness).

After sitting on it for a while, I thought "literary pentimento" was the right term (I wrote a paper about Hellman's autobiographical novel (not quite a roman a clef) back in English 1B). It seemed like this might be something that could tie a good critical essay together. Then I came across (pretty basic google search), of course, literary pentimento. I was only a little disappointed, but that little bit of disappointment got me thinking about whether it's really possible to have an original idea anymore. I'm not sure how I'd answer that one, but I think it's a good one to start discussing. Any thoughts on any of the above?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

An Ounce of Prevention Lacks Satisfying Feeling

I don't do it. I don't have health insurance as a rule so even when I did I wasn't in the practice of going to the doctor for anything. Even when I ripped my toenail off I didn't go to the doctor until the barely attached nail hurt too much and the people at my job insisted I go.

No, for me it's only when the squeaky wheel starts shooting sparks and grinding to a halt that it gets replaced. Usually, I couldn't afford the grease. Of course some would point out that it's less than a new wheel, but what do those people know?

Well, for a change I did some preventative maintenance before it was a problem. Well, to be honest before it was even more of a problem. I bought a full set of tires for The Lego. This is after two blow outs and a mechanic telling me that he wouldn't go very far on those front tires. Initially it was just going to be the fronts until the same rear tire blew out a second time. At that point it just seemed like a good idea to take on a full set.

First of all, I had no idea how expensive a full set of tires was going to be. I had been buying cheap single tires as I rolled in the shredded spare, never before that I can recall had I actually rolled the car in for the tire change.

I think on some level I feel like it wasn't necessary, even though it was. The tires were working when I rolled up to the tire joint, they still had some drive in them and I cut them off. I know this doesn't make sense, that driving a tire until it blows out is an incredible hassle. In fact, I know that intimately. But I still can't manage to feel satisfied with spending that money on tires that were literally on the edge of their lives.

This all comes from my most successful month ever. I have made more money this month than I ever have, pennies from heaven included (and there were none this month). I have as much money coming in as I have and what I have is what I would usually consider a touch of a surplus. I've been poor so long (even this lump sum, if I made it every month, would put me in a very low income bracket) that the practice has extended to everything. What I should be doing with this money is finding as many creditors as I can and clearing off as much as I can. But I'm not. The only debt I'm killing is one that will come up one way or another in June anyway. And the tires.

Other purchases have been things that have nagged at me, like a new hard drive, and things I thought would be a good idea, like a GPS receiver so that I don't get lost on gigs anymore. On the plus side of that one is I was able to download voices so that Mr. T or Gary Busey give me directions, and that's pretty satisfying...

In my slacker days (well, more thorough slacker days) this money would have been spent on a PS3 or Wii. Of course in those days I never would have been able to make this much...I'd always pictured a time like this as me running down the street throwing $20 bills over my head.

Nothing is as cool as you imagine it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Our first spinoff

Hello all--this is just a heads-up about the side blog that I just started (no schism--Walrus and I talked about this, and it seemed better suited to a side project than as a regular feature of the Sandwich Machine). It's certainly not required reading, and it's a bit personal, but it is for consumption by interested parties. I do ask that those who know the meatworld individuals mentioned not publicize those identities, and I would likewise like to leave those mentioned out of the loop until it seems appropriate.

The blog itself offers a thorough explanation of the project, but in summary, it's related to my father's recent cancer surgery and surrounding issues. Stop by and check it out if you are so inclined.

A new post to the newly rejuvenated Sandwich Machine should show up soon.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Timing Issues

It turns out that entries are posted based on when they are started, and not when they are posted. While I am not necessarily forcing people to look, it should be noted that the Vonnegut entry that I put together following his death, while actually posted today, shows up below the two quite worthy entries of my co-blogger. If you're inclined to check it out, do so, but I guess that's the price I pay for taking my time.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Macro-Series

I should edit my last post as there are some connections that I forgot to make and such.

Or I should look up other critical writings on this subject first so I don't retread something someone has already said.

I'm not going to do either, too lazy. Hopefully I'll at least follow up.

I mentioned briefly in the last post about the 'macro-series,' and I wanted to go into that trend in television as of late.

The television series, traditionally (and I know everyone knows this, I just don't know where to start) has been an open ended serial with a central premise, being newlyweds, or an entertainer married to busy body or a detective with a lazy eye and an odd method of questioning.

Then came the mini-series. This site has an interesting history and analysis of what makes up that. That's also a site I just now discovered, so thats something.

Lately we've seen the rise to new addition, a serialized show that while having complete and multiple seasons has a finite end to it. There is a difference between these shows and shows that have the appearance of a finite end, such as an angel that has to save a fixed number of souls, or a man who has to complete or prevent something before the millinium. In those serialized shows the task is a repetitive device that fuels the drama of each episode. Sam can jump as many times as the show remains relevant, lists can be added and rules changed to maintain the length of the series so that a show about a war can last longer than the war itself.

I don't know if it is the first, but the first instance I became aware of this new narrative, what I've been calling 'the macro-series,' with Babylon 5, which was promoted on the notion that the writer, J. Michael Straczynski, had a five year story arch in mind for his show.

This is an interesting approach to the high concept television show, which traditionally has a short shelf life anyway. It gives the narrative a chance to be a closed loop, for the story to work itself to and end rather than being a series of interconnected events that just stops at some point. It has been one of the major advantages that film has had, that it could tell a complete story. The mini-series managed this dissandvantage into and advantage in that it can be even larger in scope, the macro-series magnifies this even further. Now it can tell a complete story with nearly the narrative depth of the written word.

Now I should be careful and say that while it can, I don't know that it has yet.

But the macro-series does have a pitfall, and thats its own success. Kiefer Sutherland said of 24 essentially, "How many bad days can one guy have?" And that was before the beginning of the 3rd season. Lost struggles to continue the story to keep it on the air.

There are some easy reasons that might contribute to the rise of the macro-series. First there is the aforementioned short shelf life of high concept series. But I think probably the biggest contributer is the rising sales of DVDs of television series.

Time was that a show was sold to the network for 90% of what it took to produce it and the producers hoped to reach a watershed number of episodes, 100 for the longest time, that would allow it to be sold in syndication. Changes in the amount of programing a station can own itself has made it more difficult for shows to reach that watershed (as well given rise to the reality show). But with DVD sales of series a show has another method to make up production costs. A macro-series can then sell itself as a complete story divided into series and then episodes. It is a complete project, not one you can skip a season or two. With a show like The Simpsons you can choose maybe only your favorite seasons, but miss a season of Lost and you will be.

I'm actually a fan of this new development. I've always felt that while it would be interesting to develop a character over time, having to commit to an open ended story, stuck pivoting on one premise was a limiting element in television that inevitably lends itself to shark jumping moments like 'evil amnesia Sonny Crocket.'What happens is, no matter how dynamic the premise their entire existence isn't going to be interesting, only a particular moment or moments. Now the strength of a series, such as a character developing over time, can meet with an actual story arch.

Of course now it's being used for people breaking out of prison and illegal cross country road races, but just because some of the execution leaves something to be desired doesn't mean the format doesn't have promise.

I'll probably find a better article on this later and feel silly. Ah well.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Secret Bad Ass

I've been watching Fox's new macro-series (more on that term later) Drive because I'm just enough of a tool to watch a TV show about a high stakes illegal road race starring that dude from Firefly but not enough to watch a movie about a high stakes illegal road race starring Carmen Electra.

Well, last night the secret was revealed as to why our lead character was inducted into the race (aside from the already improbable kidnaping of his wife.) It turns out he's that special kind of fictional character that fills a specific niche, a certain kind of fantasy that has held some facination with me.

It turns out, he's a Secret Bad Ass.

It's one of the action genre's more interesting archetypes. There are two distinct types of Secret Bad Ass-the first, probably most common is the Reluctant Secret Bad Ass. The Reluctant Secret Bad Ass has a vague and horrible past, a past in which his Bad Assness was no secret. But then something happened...maybe he couldn't save that one true love and that's why he holds everyone at a distance. Or he found a true love and gave up the life for her. Or he couldn't stand the horrors anymore, he's turned over a new leaf.

There are plenty of examples of the Reluctant Secret Bad Ass. John Rambo just wanted to pass through town, maybe get something to eat, then the sheriff pressed him and his Bad Assness had to come out.

Tom Stall of History of Violence just wants to start a new life until someone starts some shit in his diner.

Casey Ryback was just the ships cook until Tommy Lee and the boys try to take over his ship.

Then, and this is even more intriguing, there is the Unknown Secret Bad Ass. Our hero goes through his life with a blank spot, or maybe wakes up lacking a certain degree of his memory only to have events trigger his Unknown Secret Bad Assedness.

I first encountered the Unknown Secret Bad Ass was in American Ninja. What? Don't look at me that way, I was a teenager in the 80s. Ninjas were where it was at.

In it, Joe Armstrong (seriously, Joe Armstrong. Follow the link, I'm not making that up) is given the "Enlist or go to jail" option where a attempted hijacking reviels that the blank spot in his past was when he learned and mastered Ninjitsu.

The Bourne Identity relies on the Unknown Bad Ass as its premise. A character has no memory except the muscle memory neccisary to be an Unknown Secret Bad Ass.

Even The Matrix hinges on an everyday hacker in fact being the Unknown Secretest Bad Ass, in this case some sort of digital messiah.

It doesn't take much imagination to form a theory about the appeal of the Secret Bad Ass. It's the portal out of your mundane existance, day to day you are your usual workaday self. You go to the same job, do the same work, eat the same muffin. But just under the surface, just below the tie and morgage payments is a Secret Bad Ass waiting for that one crucial moment for it to surface. You go from Everyman to Superman in the blink of the eye with no clue except for that pained look now and then and avoidance of discussing the past, or in some cases not being able to remember the past.

For the Unknown Secret Bad Ass the appeal is even greater. Just replace that vague period in your memory with the time that for some reason you recieved your Secret Bad Ass Training but then, because of a traumatic event blocked the experience from your memory, or simply didn't know you possesed the power to save the world.

I'm not stranger to this, though I can recognize it and its pitfalls, I am just as suseptable. When I had my sports car I had a portion of me that secretly hoped that someone would jump in my passenger seat brandishing a gun and telling me to 'run for it.' My Secret Bad Ass driving nature would come out as I use my blank check to make a run for it in traffic and my Secret Bad Ass cunning to outsmart my kidnapper.

Or maybe I could have been 'forced' into an high stakes illegal road race.

Instead I'll watch a show about it...if only because there isn't anything else on at that time anyway. My Bad Assness can remain secret a little longer.

Friday, April 13, 2007

How Do You Parody Something That Barely Exists?

Here's how.

I also learned that Lorem Ipsum is not who I thought it was.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The Universal Will to Become

Note: the following entry was started immediately following the recent death of Kurt Vonnegut; it has become a project of somewhat greater scope than originally intended, and the author has decided to forgo the mad rush to comment on this sad event immediately in the interest of thoroughness. Any statements that reflect the time at which it was originally started have been preserved in the interest of authenticity.

Last night, on the way home from teaching the first lecture of my history class, I caught the end of a BBC World News story about Kurt Vonnegut;I've always been rapt whenever Vonnegut is mentioned, but it gave me pause because there was no mention of what he was doing now, and I immediately felt a sense of dread that soon turned out to be justified, but it took several phone calls until I could get a definite confirmation that one of my favorite writers was, in fact, dead (So it goes). If you've been following this blog (and I know that this is a highly select group), you might find it notable that this is the same stretch of road (Business 80 between the Watt and Exposition exits in Sacramento) where I got the news about my cousin's death (so it goes)--I'm not inclined to look for special significance in this kind of thing, but it seems kind of Vonnegut for that to be the place where I have contemplated the inevitable on more than one occasion.

I blew off grading the papers that I had promised my students for the next day and instead decided to get a little trashed and think about the most significant literary and philosophical influence on my twenties. In retrospect, Vonnegut popped up on a near-constant basis during that decade. I remember catching the excellent film adaptation of Mother Night at a now-defunct arthouse theater (just visible from the aforementioned stretch of highway) on a cold night just before Christmas--I saw it alone, and it cut me to the core in that depressing and life-affirming way that Vonnegut's work always seems to.

I saw Vonnegut speak at the Scottish Rite Temple at the end of my undergraduate coursework in English at CSUS. While what he said was not atypical, the experience was still a significant one. I was already bound for grad school, and I wanted to write a thesis on Vonnegut (this was born out of a bizarre academic standoff that was kind of the literary/critical equivalent of with me in the role of the Spartans--more on that later). This was one of the first times that I realized that the primary dividing line between me and "fans" of all types was my self-awareness about my interests--I loved Star Trek as a child, but couldn't cross into wearing Spock ears or going to conventions. The crowd wanted to hear the same things they had heard before, and the key moment came when a very earnest man from Eastern Europe begged Vonnegut to secure a better Russian translator. In good, but heavily accented English, he made his plea, and, in an attempt to be flattering, told the old man that to many people in his country, Vonnegut was "like a god." Vonnegut walked out of the room and had to be talked into coming back. This poor man was crestfallen, and I don't think Vonnegut was insensitive to his distress, but the bubble in which he has spent the bulk of his life was never more visible, and anyone who knows his work would understand why that specific phrase might be upsetting. I enjoyed myself, but I couldn't get the proper space in which to ask the very different kind of questions that I had, and I couldn't, couldn't fawn over him, before or after the incident.

About a year prior to that, I took a lit course that covered Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle. As we discussed the novel, a disagreement arose about the ending of the novel (the exact nature of the whole thing isn't specifically relevant, but it was my assertion that the final few sentences clearly indicate that the narrator commits suicide). The argument lasted two full class sessions and ended in a draw (although I later found that a few critics did share my view).

In The Sirens of Titan (a quite underrated part of the Vonnegut canon), Vonnegut writes about the Universal Will To Become (or UWTB). This is a cosmic force for change, adaptation, and growth--what makes things become the things they are, and strive to be the things the may one day be. I think it's a fair description of the man himself.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Project Woodshed

For the last several months, I have been kicking around the idea of taking some time off work--not just a week or two, but something on the order of six months or so. For years, I've often lamented the fact that work, or school, or whatever, keeps me from focusing on artistic and intellectual pursuits. I'm hoping that this experiment will help determine whether this is just a pretty story that I tell myself or an actual truth about my nature. In either case, I'll know something that will help me figure out where to go from here.

So here's the plan:

1. Work my butt off in order to reach a target savings of $7500 -10,000, which, by my calculations, should be sufficient to support myself for six months without serious financial strain.

2. Non-op and store my car so that I can cancel my insurance and save money on gas.

3. Put 70-80% of my belongings in storage in the interest of minimizing clutter and distractions, with a related goal of temporarily narrowing the books that I have ready access to to what can fit in one bookshelf.

4. Find a cheap apartment or other living arrangement and put up six months of rent in advance.

5. Make arrangements for a hiatus from my three part-time teaching jobs, with an eye toward returning to work when the experiment concludes in the event that I don't decide to do something else.

6. See what happens.

My hope is to put all this into effect at the beginning of 2008--I will try to keep this blog updated regularly with my progress.

Wish me luck.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Why I Like Working Documentaries...

I guess this would be a really good reason to finally make a new blog entry. Today I worked on a documentary where we filmed, the man who coined the term 'blog.'(If you scan down on the left you can see the actual post that started it all there.) Well, it should be a good reason, but really it just made me want to apologize for what I do with the thing he named. Or don't do.

We also met Paul Niquette, who apparently in 1953 first coined the term 'software.' He had to do a little defending and searching, but just found out from the Oxford English Dictionary that he was going to be given credit for the word.

We did this in the Computer History Museum, which doesn't sound like it would be all that much, but was pretty cool. It was interesting to see the Compaq lugable computer I used to have or the Commodore 64 as museum pieces. And of course the game system display. But the coolest was the stuff that I had no idea about. A hard drive about half as big as me, a machine that had the coolest name, Johnniac. Why don't computers have cool names like that? Then there was Kitchen Computer, which no one cold tell me what it was supposed to do or how it was supposed to work. And the original Google server. Oh you hand built finder of porn, trivia, and how many times my name is mentioned on the internet.

Anyway, that is why I like doing documentaries, it's like watching them, but it takes longer and occasionally I get to ask my own question. Peter Merholz even told me what the Sandwich Machine was-something like lazyweb, where people just state the things they want but are too lazy to make it so they put it on the web and hope someone else does it. I like my name.

It implies that I get sandwiches.