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.