Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Chinese Emperor vs, Crystal Skull, Rick O'Connell vs. Indiana Jones

When you look at IMDb, neither the last Indiana Jones or the last Mummy instalments got a lot of votes. Indiana came in one point ahead of O'Connell, but at 6.8/10 average that's hardly something to crow about.

The main reason for the low rating of either is, I suspect, the viewer's resistance to things changing. Both movies are set a significant time after the 'last' ones; times and technology have changed, making them less romantic in terms of setting; the kids of the main protagonists have grown up; and the stories are kinda hard to write, because you're basically looking for something that is the same, only different. And when that kind of thing gets delivered, everybody either complains about there not being enough of the same or of there not being enough original new things--with 'originality' being an obsession in this day and age, which hungers for the 'new' in a world and time where novelty is actually very hard to come by, and we've been so screwed up and 'new'-habituated by a all-out assault of what's being sold, rightly or not, as 'new', inside and outside of the 'arts'. The irony is, that there actually is very little 'new', but it's all a question of marketing, of course. People are so dumb, honestly! The really 'new' seldom captures wide attention.

Within the context of these issues, follow-ups on former successful movie series (Star Wars is always there as a warning example, with the last ridiculous instalment completely losing the plot by being unafflicted by any human being in sight!) will always have a hard time; be it on TV or the big screen. As for me, I thought they were both good fun.

Bringing back characters from Raiders of the Lost Ark provided a welcome closure to the whole story are, insofar as there was one, and restored a dynamic, at least to some extent, that was completely missing in the second and third Indy Jones movies--which were fun, but lacked something, and it may have been this thing. Unfortunately the movie, in its hunt for the novel and different came up with space-aliens in the von Daniken vein, which really didn't quite work. To my mind it was a writer's copout, because they focused on story and story effects and not on character and character interaction, which was, once the characters were established, completely predictable and lacked something that I couldn't place my finger on until I finally got seeing Tomb of the Dragon Emperor.

I know, I know, it was just the previous Mummy instalments set in China, but who cares? It was predictable, but who cares? It didn't even feature Rachel Weisz, whose character in interaction with Brendan Fraser's was kind of integral to the first two. And, yes, there were the usual estrangement issues between father and grown-up son and all that jazz. Nothing new here, really.

But I will eventually buy the DVD, while I won't bother with Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, and do you know why? Because Mummy 3 had heart, and Indy 4 didn't. Because the Mummy 3 writers and producers (and even the director, though I wouldn't necessarily have expected it from him) obviously understood, intellectually and/or viscerally, that trying to desperately wring 'novelty' out of something that really doesn't require novelty is a fool's game.

OK, so maybe commercially Indy 4 did better than Mymmy 3, but never mind 'commercial'. That's influenced as much, if not more, by marketing and 'star power' and just sheer legend-hype as actual content. And Indy always had a big edge on Rick O'Connell because of Harrison Ford and the whole Indy Jones mythos, harking back to the goold old days of Spielberg and Lucas ruling the Hollywood scene.

When it comes being able to watch something and just enjoying it, Mummy 3 beats Indy 4 hands down though. That is because, even though one will inevitably sit down and start watching it with a sense of "I hope I'm not going to be disappointed", which acts as a terrible detaching influence, in the case of Mummy 3 one is soon immersed in the familiar and utterly predictable. Even the fact that Maria Bello replaced Rachel Weisz ceases to matter after about 5 minutes; or it did for me--because while she isn't Weisz, she is herself, and though she doesn't have Weisz softness, and though nobody would buy her having an Egyptian mother, she has a charm and presence that makes it all not matter--unless someone absolutely wanted to be critical, of course, and there always are those people.

Does it make sense that the Dragon Emperor might conquer the world using his terrcotta army? Of course not, but these things never do, so who cares? What matters is that the grown up son of Rick and Evie is a far more likeable and less cartoonish character than Indy's (Peace, Shia LeBeouf! I think you're very funny and I love seeing you in movies, but this one didn't work.) and that everybody actually seems to care far more about people than about doing adventurous stuff. That's where the heart is, and that's why I'm happy to add Mummy 3 to my 'comfort viewing' list, on which you'll also find the following, which probably pretty much define what kind of a movie watcher I am (and, yes, there are some odd ones in there when it comes to the 'comfort' angle):
  • Mummy 1
  • Mummy 2
  • Stardust
  • Princess Bride
  • The Duellists
  • Tears of the Sun
  • The Italian Job (the remake)
  • You Kill Me
  • King Arthur
  • and, yes, Raiders of the Lost Ark
This list isn't exhaustive, but the ones up there are definitely on it, and I'm adding Mummy 3. If I need to do some stuff that doesn't completely require my attention, like sorting papers and similarly tedious stuff, and I need something more in the background than just music, then these ones tends to come out.

My rating. Indy 4: 6/10, Mummy 3: 9/10.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Before the Law

Sometimes you find more than just Charlie the Unicorn or Beached Whale or End of Ze World or Cereal Bwax on YouTube.

This here is a gem. I've alluded to it before and counsel you to sit through its short duration.

And take it to heart, of course...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Standstill comes to an end

He who keeps danger in mind is he who will rest safe in his seat;
He who keeps ruin in mind is he who will preserve his interests secure;
He who sets the danger of disorder before him is he who will maintain the state of order.
Therefore the superior man, when resting in safety, does not forget that danger may come;
When in a state of security, he does not forget the possibility of ruin;
When all is in a state of order, he does not forget that disorder may come.
Thus his person is kept safe, and his states and all their clans can be preserved.


These lines are from an English translation of an old book, called the I Ching (Hexagram 12, Line 5), which is often used as an oracle; but this need not be its main purpose, as a random look into it reveals a cornucopia of usually-excellent advice—of which the above is a prime example.

Hexgram 12 isn't particularly cheery, it's title usually translated as 'Standstill' or 'Stagnation', or, in the Alfred Huang translation, as 'Hindrance', which doesn't sound quite as ominous.

Line 5, however, indicates that Standstill finally gives way, and that things change for the better. Still, at the same time there's the admonition cited above, which really needs no explanation.

Why should I bring this up in my last blog before Christmas? Well, mainly because I just happened to have a philosophical moment—I do that occasionally—and randomly poked my nose into the I Ching, as I also sometimes do, almost always with thought-provoking results and often uncanny resonances with whatever might be on my mind at the time. And there was this and it seemed to me that, amidst the usual cheery-and-upbeat-even-if-it-kills-us Christmas spirit, the thoughts expressed above might well represent a ray of seldom-glimpsed profundity and sage advice.

Take them to heart or do not. Ponder them or forget them as quickly as you have read them. Whataver your disposition may be will determine whether this resonates with you or whether you'll consider it all rather too tedious to think about in your eagerness to have a good time. Like everything else it's your choice, and the consequences will be what they are.

And so, in a spirit of pensive gratitude for having my family having gone through another year without major tragedies and disasters, and also very much in the spirit of the I Ching's admonitions above, I wish you a good holiday.

Be safe. Stay healthy. Stay alert.

Best wishes to all.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Dandies and Balls

One thing I've learned about life is this: nothing is as 'it should be'; or, to put it differently, as we have construed that it should be; or 'ought to' be; or would 'sensibly' be...this way or that, depending on our varied preconceptions of what all this is all about. Most 'things', objects, aren't; and even less so are people; and even less so are the myriad ways in which contingency screws around with our plans--benignly, on occasion; vexatiously disturbing the desired course of events, for the most.

There's only one sensible way to deal with this: roll with the punches. And, one might add, never give up; certainly not because things appear to be at odds with your well-laid plans and schemes and clever tricks and, not to put too fine a point on it, existential delusions.

What brought this up? Well, today I had one of those days. Trying to do some real productive work and getting the nose to the grindstone. And what did I get as soon as I started this? Network problems! Related to VISTA, of course. What else? I hate network problems. They're like...oh, in 'real life' a bit like plumbing issues, or drainage maybe. Totally boring, probably even for most plumbers, and utterly time-wasting. By the time you've tried all possible and trouble-shooting-advice-gurus' solutions and still it doesn't work, you feel like screaming "Let me out of this!" Surely, somebody will some day delete all network designers and general net-admin nazis, who require these shitty complicated systems; plus, of course, Microsoft engineers, whose skills in practical, functional, helfpul User-Interface design are like ZERO, ZILCH, NADA, NIL, RIEN NE VA F... PLUS! People have flipped for much lesser reasons! The asylums of the western world have to be littered with the debris of minds destroyed by the abomination called 'Windows'. Though I fancy that without the same agency, many psychiatrists would be considerably worse off, and possibly the equivalent of the GDP of small-to-medium-sized third-world nations, would have to be subtracted from the collective income of the profession.

Grrrrr.... Kill kill kill...

But to more lighthearted things. Thought I'd share this idle reflection made by a recent visitor to the Vatican. Apparently, the costumes of the Vatican's Swiss Guard were designed by none less than Michelangelo, though according to Wikipedia this isn't so, but they were designed much later. Whatever the truth may be, the recent visitor to the Vatican commented that surely their creator/designer had been gay. Who else could have come up with...this?



Or maybe the creator was a jester, whose prank on the Catholic church, left it with one of the most excruciatingly tasteless and laughable costumes ever. On the other hand, if you look at the rest of the mummery associated with Catholicism—and most religion, period!—it all fits in perfectly. Ahh, what a strange world we live in.

And here's one for the PC crowd, just to rile you up a bit and maybe perturb your word-view just a tad.

Balls and Brains

Just remember what I wrote at the beginning.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Quotes or Paraphrases? Tomahto, Potaito?

Sometimes things come back to haunt me. Well, sort of.

A long time ago, 2+ years, I used George Orwell's dictum "We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.", as the title of a blog. Yesterday someone posted a comment, stating that it wasn't Orwell but Churchill, who said that. Further checking up on Wikpedia revealed, as much as Wikipedia may be considered authoritative in that regard, that the quote, insofar as we refer to the version I used, has also been attributed to Churchill. Indeed, Orwell wrote something that stated exactly the same thing, and in a much more cogent and probably less manipulatively-intended context than Churchill, namely an essay on Nationalism; which, by the way, I highly recommend to everybody's reading, because it also contains a very important analysis of the terms 'nationalism' and 'patriotism', two concepts that are habitually conflated in everyday and also academic discourse, resulting in an unjustified tarring-by-conflation of the latter by the former.

The Wikipedia page of misquotations is a small treasure of examples of how things get muddled up, and how little time and degrees of separation it takes to get them muddled up. Maybe the most interesting example is another one of my favorites "Only the dead have seen the end of war," which I also always attributed to Socrates, and even Ridley Scott did when he quoted it in the lead in to Black Hawk Down. It seems—that's according to Wikipedia—that it wasn't Socrates but the Spaniard (claimed also by the US) George Santayana, who wrote these words in his The Life of Reason.

That'll learn me!

On the other hand, does it matter?

Well, yes and no.

It may matter for two possible reasons:
  • Pedantry. Some people can't bear attributive inaccuracies and think they matter. That's fine. If it's your job to be a stickler for historical accuracy, fine. Otherwise...

  • Motivation of the originator. Things are said for different reasons by different people. Anything said by politicians, priests, lawyers, salesmen, ideologues, critics, etc. is immediately suspect by association. Guilty until proven innocent beyond reasonable doubt. Churchill making any pronouncement is a completely different thing, and has completely different implications and associations, than Orwell doing it.
On the other hand, such sayings can be disembodied, disconnected from their originators. Forget about who said it, but look at what is expressed in the statement and see if it resonates with one's own perception of what's what; if it triggers an insight into something that had been elusive until then; whether it brings disparate and hitherto apparently unconnected strands of 'fact'together; whether it stimulates new thoughts that may lead to new insights...

It's difficult to say which is the 'correct' way of looking at this, or whether there is a 'correct way'; which, I suspect there isn't. As usual it's context and the individual in question.

As for me, I don't give a rat's ass whether it was Edmund Burke who said/wrote "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." It contains a profound truth that should trouble all who hear this and have the courage to think about it. And maybe I should add that it is symptomatic of the deficiencies of Wikipedia that the section about this particular saying completely misrepresents what it tries to express--in the form and wording which has become popularly known. If really it was derived from the Edmund Burke passage "When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle." then the person who rephrased it saw something in it that goes far beyond anything political. For the way we know it now, the aphorism says nothing at all about 'association', but about the issue of what a 'good' man is; how he reacts to the presence of evil; what sacrifices he's willing to bring to his life and his 'goodness' alike; whether he uses his goodness as a cause for denial of the need for action or even the acknowledgment of the existence of evil; and so on.

Bottom line: a quote should be attributed if possible, but if it's a case of "I don't really know who said it but..." then that's fine, too. Sometimes ignoring the origin isn't only OK, but better, because it defocuses attention from the 'authority', or lack thereof, of the one who originated the statement. That's usually a good thing, because ultimately there is no real authority in such matters but oneself.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Mill of Rumor and BHG (Basic Human Gullibility)

I recommend thearticle below for your reading. It is a valuable guide to checking yourself before you believe anything anyone tells you.

I know: you wouldn't fall victim to such trash. Right?

Yeah, right...

The 8½ Laws of Rumor Spread

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

AUSTRALIA - The Movie (The Real One)

OK, so I got to see it, and it's been a while since I just enjoyed a movie quite as much. I also understand more why those who trash it—Australians and non-Australians alike; but excluding 'critics', professional and self-styled, who are just assholes—think about it as they do.

It's just the kind of movie you either 'get' or you don't. There is, I think, no happy medium. We're talking two distincly different types of people. I obviously belong to this one, not that. So, from the point of view of this side, here's what I would like to say; avoiding synopsis and all that crap, which you can read up on somewhere else, and besides it's spoilers.

Above all, as already mentioned, the movie was immensely enjoyable. It was grand, dramatic, theatrical, melodramatic, tragic, funny, sad; with lots of Aussie nudge-nudge-wink-winks and plenty of 'crikey'. It ended as I would have ended it—which is always a cool thing, especially for a story-writer, because it's that very satisfying experience of having one's expectation of what should happen actually happening, and seeing that someone else understood what needed to be done.

There were a lot of facial closeups, and they weren't done with steadycams or just plain handhelds either, all shaky and sometimes even out of focus. Australia's closeup shots were done the old-fashioned way, with precision and tripod-mounted cameras. The term 'old-fashioned' is appropriate for a lot of the movie. Occasionally, or so I suspect, the obvious green-screen effect was deliberately not concealed, to give it that feel of 'old' or just maybe 'stage. It worked like a charm.

Some of the closeups gave us the best kissing scenes I've seen in a long time. As someone very much aware of the importance of kissing—not just in real life, but also in film and literature—I appreciate it when it's done right. Jackman and Kidman could teach many a film maker, as well as a lot of actors, more than just a thing or two. This was serious 'romance', not just mere 'steamy' stuff. All very sexy without taking the movie out of 'family viewing' territory.

I'd see it again tomorrow if I had the time, and I'll certainly get the DVD when it comes out. I could go on berating those benighted ones who just don't 'get' the movie, but I've long given up on trying to beat my head against those walls. They're too damn thick.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

From the Troubling to the Absurd

While I am bothered by the matters mentioned in the previous blog, this here left me with a classic, unvocalized WTF:

Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission pushes for third 'intersex' gender

The Rich and The Poor

It's not like I hadn't suspected this, but to see it confirmed doesn't leave me any less troubled.

Striking differences between brains of rich and poor
by Kate Melville

A new study in the Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience by researchers from the University of California, Berkeley, has shown for the first time that the brains of low-income children function differently from the brains of high-income kids. UC Berkeley's Robert Knight says that normal 9 and 10-year-olds differing only in socioeconomic status have detectable differences in the response of their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that is critical for problem solving and creativity.

Previous studies have shown a possible link between frontal lobe function and behavioral differences in children from low and high socioeconomic levels, but this new study is the first to directly measure brain activity where there is no issue of task complexity.

Knight's team measured the kids' brain function using an electroencephalograph (EEG) - basically, a cap fitted with electrodes to measure electrical activity in the brain. They found that kids from lower socioeconomic levels showed brain physiology patterns similar to someone who had damage in the frontal lobe as an adult. "We found that kids are more likely to have a low response if they have low socioeconomic status, though not everyone who is poor has low frontal lobe response," remarked Knight.

The study notes that the children had no neural damage, yet the prefrontal cortex was not functioning as efficiently as it should be. The researchers suspect that stressful environments and cognitive impoverishment are to blame, since in animals, stress and environmental deprivation have been shown to affect the prefrontal cortex. UC Berkeley's Marian Diamond, professor emeritus of integrative biology, showed nearly 20 years ago in rats that enrichment thickens the cerebral cortex as it improves test performance.

Co-author W. Thomas Boyce, UC Berkeley professor emeritus of public health, is not surprised by the results. "We know kids growing up in resource-poor environments have more trouble with the kinds of behavioral control that the prefrontal cortex is involved in regulating. But the fact that we see functional differences in prefrontal cortex response in lower socioeconomic status kids is definitive."

"This is a wake-up call," Knight added. "It's not just that these kids are poor and more likely to have health problems, but they might actually not be getting full brain development from the stressful and relatively impoverished environment associated with low socioeconomic status: fewer books, less reading, fewer games, fewer visits to museums."



From here.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Woody Allen: Absurdist

Last week, the presenter of the Australian ABC's 7.30 Report, Kerry O]Brien', showed us an interview he conducted earlier in the day with Woody Allen. I highly recommend that you treat yourself to the 13 minutes of the talk. It kind of fits in with my last two posts on 'Fire Inside'.

I'm not a huge fan of Woody Allen's movies, though sometimes I have a nagging notion that my own little attempt at 'romantic comedy', Dating Blind, had definite Allenesque aspects to it. However, no matter how Woody Allen expresses himself in his chosen medium, ever since I found out that he made the pithy and immensely sound Absurdist/Emortalist quip: "I am not afraid of death, I just don't want to be there when it happens." I've known that there's a kindred spirit here. It's also a spirit who definitely still has Fire Inside, despite his deceptively non-fiery demanor.

Anyway, the interview is a treasure of things worthwhile thinking about. Spend the time and enjoy it.

And here's a page with Woody Allen quotes, that should keep one in quotables for a little while.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

No Fire Inside

Good song lyrics make you think about stuff. Life. The Universe. Why you're here. Whether there is a 'why' at all. Where you are going. Why bother. Things like that.

When you come to think about it, the lyrics of that Bob Seger song are pretty grim. Some might say 'morbid'. He's done other stuff like that, of course, so it's par for the course. And it's not like this kind of tone isn't adopted by a gazillion of other poets of the era, or any other era. Still, it's different—at least it sounds like that to me. There's something different about Bob Seger, the poet, that makes me pay attention, where others leave me either yawning, or closing the book of going into another room, so I don't have to listen to their productions.

Maybe it is form. A lot of Seger's 'poetry' is told in the form of stories. Look at his lyrics and you'll know what I mean. Some stories extend over just an evening—like Fire Inside—and others over his favorite time-span, or at least it looks that way, of 20 years (Like a Rock, The Ring, etc).

It might be form, at least for those 'story' type lyrics. But I think it's more than that; in fact I know it is.

For one there's the music. It kind of matters, because we're talking about 'music' here. Might say the same for the likes of Leonard Cohen or Nick Cave and, say, Springsteen, of course; because they, too, 'sing'—in a manner of speaking; and they put their stuff to melodies. Said melodies, this tends to be the trend in music, are usually intended to enhance the lyrics—or, in other cases, the lyrics are something that's supposed to 'go with' the melodies, ot 'tunes'. In the best of cases the two become a synergy of...well, whatever it is that we're hearing...message, story, reflection, musings...and so on. Like a movie and its musical score can become this 'whole' thing that is greater than the mere addition of its parts.

So, music matters, and its integration with the lyrics matters and how they play off each other. But is that all?

Sometimes a musician reveals something of himself—not in terms of personal details, but just about his character and who and what he is—in one of his songs; and methinks that Fire Inside is where Bob Seger does it; where he catches that glimpse inside himself and pulls something out and shows it to us. Never mind that the song is about a girl. It is about all of us—and it's about what some of us have and others don't; or what some once had and don't anymore; and what some never really had, because it was extinguished pretty early in their lives; and what yet others don't have, because their brains—and, yes, it does have to do with their brain structure and chemistry!—just didn't turn out to support this thing...this 'Fire Inside'.

What is it: the 'Fire Inside'? How do you know it's there—in others; in yourself? How do you recognize it? What does it do to people? Is it a good thing? What is its influence on human beings?

I'm still not sure, though I can usually detect its presence by many, sometimes extremely subtle signs.

I can tell you what it is not: the myriad phenomena and characteristics used to conceal its absence. Some of these are often associated with what one might consider very worthy activities, driven by what's commonly seen as 'passion' for this, that or the other. Now, nobody is suggesting that said activities aren't worthy or that they are merely used to conceal the lack of Fire Inside and basically help the general 'denial' process. That's not at all what I'm saying.

No, Fire Inside is something else altogether, though often it does express itself as a form of energy that's directed and mis-directed into pursuits that can create havoc or be beneficent. Fire Inside is neutral, like 'The Force" in Star Wars maybe, though it isn't that either.

It is... well, listen to the Bob Seger Lyrics again and maybe you'll get a hint of it.

"...
No matter what you dream or feel or say
It ends in dust and disarray

Like wind on the plains, sand through the glass
Waves rolling in with the tide
Dreams die hard and we watch them erode
But we cannot be denied
The fire inside..."

Whatever lurks behind those words...that's it.

Think Batty in Bladerunner...



And if you need to know even more, it should be this: Fire Inside is what most people are truly afraid of. It's the thing that occasions a deep sadness, carefully denied, when it has died—and all that's left is the afterglow that sees them through to the point of dying. It's what they killed, but whose extinguishing most will blame on others or circumstances—though for many that is actually true, but maybe not as true as one would think. It's their greatest attribute, and yet it is thrown away and carelessly left to sputter and go out, when all they had to do is tend to the flame and nourish it.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Fire Inside

Just going through a Bob Seger phase. Seger, as his aficionados will probably appreciate, is a poet, but he tends to be far less ostentatious about it than others, who shall remain unmentioned, and who have made a killing out of their 'poet songwriter' image.

Here's an oldie, Fire Inside (lyrics), with a very dated video going with it. Like in others of his songs—The Ring, Tightrope and so on—this song is about and almost written from from a female perspective; as much as a male can do such a thing, which isn't easy, as I can attest! I find this interesting in a number of ways; not least because most of the so-called 'poet songwriters', when they write about women, usually write from an explicitly 'male' perspective. So it's either about what effect women have on men, or else just what kind of, usually bad, things men do to women.

Seger appears to have no such inclinations. His songs are more about...well, 'life' and the kinds of things that happen. Some good. Some not do good. Some very good. Some really bad.

I like the guy.




Lyrics | Bob Seger lyrics - Fire Inside lyrics

Monday, December 01, 2008

AUSTRALIA - The Movie

This blog is about the movie, and at the same time it isn't.

It is because it is.

It isn't because I haven't seen the movie yet.

Meaning, it's not a review or commentary or rating. What is is about, is the phenomenon of the movie itself; its existence and context; as well as, and above all, its critics. It seems like Australia brought forth some of the worst of the latter, not only from 'overseas', as seen from my Australian perspective, but also locally.

What I mean by 'the worst' is probably best explained by my own approach to movie and literary criticism, which is is this: If you don't have something good to say about it, just shut up and live with it.

So you chose to go and read/watch it (whatever 'it' is), and you didn't get something you liked. So suck it up and live with it. If you knew it was probably not going to be to your liking, why did you waste your time in the first place, except to find an opportunity to jerk off with some stupid 'criticism'? Not everybody likes everything: hasn't that gotten through to you yet? The world is a varied place, and the sad truth, if only you were able to discern it, is that only assholes really do give a crap about your particular opinion. Great company you're keeping, there!

God, I detest 'critics', so please allow me to rant on for a moment or two or three. Let me delineate a few reasons for my...hmm, let's tone that down and call it 'dislike'.

It is safe to say that critics are probably the lowest form of self-styled 'profession' our civilization has brought forth. I can make this particular generalization without fear of falling into the trap of 'generalizing', because it isn't a generalization at all, but demonstrable fact, that 999/1000 critics have never done anything truly sustainedly creative in their lives. Unless you think 'criticism' is 'creative', of course; and a case might be made for it being that, given the twistedly 'creative' nature of much criticism, which appears to have no relation whatsoever to the item(s) being criticized (or, as polite and PC parlance would have it, 'reviewed').

But if that's 'creative' then so is defecating. You gotta draw the line somewhere, and 'creation' and 'criticism' are two utterly immiscible activities. They require completely different mind sets. Critics are just about as far removed from creative people as an alien from a methane swamp planet would be from your average Earth-human.

Of the remaining 1/1000 of critics (sorry: 'reviewers') about 1/100 (or and even lesser proportion) has done something creative and found him or herself to be wanting. This generates resentment of one's betters--that being those people who either haven't been found wanting, or who have the stamina and passion to persist despite continued failure and lack of social acknowledgment of their labors and talents.

A 'failed' artist who continues at his/her work despite continued 'failure' is worth more than all the 'critics' of this world combined.

The failed-creatives' resentful envy--one of the meanest and most pathetic of emotions which usually occupies and ultimately consumes what's commonly referred to as 'small minds'--produces a mindset equivalent to that possessed by almost all of the 999/1000 main body of critics, which is the desire to get as much effect and exposure with as little effort as possible. The best way to do that is to trash the work of your betters and creatively, imaginatively and probably intellectually superiors. That also gives these wallies a great opportunity to elevate themselves by implication; because if one downs those--like everybody who has worked on a large film project, for example--who have just spent months and sometimes years pouring their passion, hearts, dedication and effort and just life-time, into producing, say, a movie like Australia...this must surely lift oneself up. And, yes, many of these people get paid to do this. Unbe-f..ing-lievable!

Also, we need to realize that, while a novel is usually just the work of one individual, a movie involved hundreds and maybe thousands. And most of these people, though of course they do get 'paid' for their labors, are probably in the industry because they actually like what they're doing in preference to something else (like becoming critics maybe), and most of them will take pride in their work, which invariably involves some form of professional skill.

It's probably too much to expect from the small-minded to take that into account before they start 'trashing' a movie. You see, a movie that was made with all the best of 'artistic' intentions--no matter how flawed--but which hasn't delivered the goods (or maybe it has? just not to you!), should be looked upon not as a thing to be reviled, like a Nazi propaganda film or a porn flick, but as a missed opportunity to have done better. Especially if there were people involved who really, really wanted to make it work and be good and tell the story it was supposed to tell, or whatever...especially then a failed movie should be regarded as an occasion for somber reflection, and maybe for learning lessons from it. Is that really so hard? Does one have to spiteful and mean, just because a given movie or book just happens to appeal to a different group of people than that to which oneself 'belongs'?

But being a critic is simple and makes one feel important, and it takes no work at all. Which is why 'everybody is a critic' may be the truest of all popular sayings.

There are 'amateur critics', of course—who just talk to their friends and acquaintances, but don't habitually rant on at length on internet sites, and who definitely don't get paid!—but they are just...well, 'human' I guess. Many of them, if they sat down for a moment and thought about their dumb-ass clichés—and especially about the one that says that some novel or movie was a lot of clichés in it; which is a truism because every bit of fiction is held up by a framework of 'clichés'!—only that when you call them 'clichés', it really means that they're not your cliches... Well, these people might actually find that they're embarrassed at their own foolishness. However, you'll find no such insights in the body of 'professional' of habitual critics. No, siree! Pompous wankers, the lot.

The bottom line:

I will go and see Australia. Of course, I will. It is likely that I will like it, because looks like my kind of movie. But, hey, I also really liked The Postman! And even if I don't like it, or if it isn't what I would like it to be, or if it ends up just being so-so, I will still remain disgusted with the sight of the dismal bilge denizens it had brought to the light of day. I so wish these slitherfish would remain in their element; but I guess it is in their nature to want the exposure of the bright light of day.

After all, every 'critic' always really only talks about one thing: him or herself. What they criticize is not really at issue. Instead, the targets of their vilifications are like mirrors into the critics' souls—and what we find there occasionally is truly butt-ugly.

Since I don't like to finish on 'down' notes, I'd like to add that a lot of people appear to just love Australia. This is heartening. I like it when I see people enjoying things, and it leaves me with a desire to ensure that whatever story I tell ends up enjoyable for those capable of that emotion. If just a few of them can take that away from my own work—if enough to matter can take that with them—I will consider myself a 'success'.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Aftermath

The neighborhood is full of the noises of chainsaws, hammerings, tree-chippers plus a varied miscellany of other unidentifiables. Cleaning up. Rebuilding. Trying to get ready for the next storm which is sure to come, thought everybody is hoping that it won't be like the last big one.

Meanwhile disasters continue to happen. The latest victim was a young girl, which drowned when a weir burst and a few thousand tons of water surged down the river. From one instant to the next a safe place turned into a death trap. Nature has no notion of justice or fairness. What else is new? Those who like to see the hand of an incomprehensible divine plan it this are... Ahh, never mind. I should be more charitable.

But there are positive aspects to this mess. For one, people who just happened to live in the same street, but never talked to each other, did exchange at least a few words of mutual commiseration. Something to talk about to people that one otherwise really has nothing to talk to about.

And then there's the simple fact that such an event reminds people that if the basics aren't there, we're pretty screwed, by and large. One of the most essential basics, apart from shelter, food and water, is electricity. Two days of no power, at least in some suburbs, should have reminded anyone with the capability of observation and reflection, of the utter and complete dependence of our civilization's functioning on electricity. And if there's no electricity, then petrol comes in handy, because you can run generators, which of course produce...electricity. And without that the food in the fridge/freezer becomes useless. You can't run your computer (well, a laptop will run for a while on its batteries, but then it's curtains!) and ADSL internet is toast. Fortunately we don't need heating right now, because that would be very dangerous.

You can cook... on camping gas stoves. But it's all a bit roughing-it. The excitement about that abates very soon indeed.

But here's another positive thing:

I often gripe about how civilized existence, which usually means 'urban' existence, has distracted people from what really matters and made them soft, dependent, slothful, hyper-refined, lazy, decadent, culturally arrogant (with respect to the non-urban populace, that often cops derogatory terms like 'country bumpkin' and 'redneck') and so on. And this is doubtlessly so. But the flipside is technology. And all the noises I hear outside, and all the machinery used in cleaning up the mess and restoring power and removing trees that have fallen into houses and tidying up the streets and erecting power poles and pumping out flooded underpasses and telling people what's going on and... All that is only possible because of civilization as well, and because of the ways in which it just happens to kind of 'work'. Not always very well, but in this instance it's this great organism, whose parts actually function almost in unison; at least sufficiently so to heal he wounds and fix up the mess.

So, it's not all bad. Things seldom are. Just like they're never 'all good' either.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Brisbane Storms

So it's been a bit hard to blog as of recent, seeing that I was trying to deal with some basic issues of life—like how to proof our house against the surface water runoff in the wake of torrential rains. Lots of physical labor, but little quality blog time.

And then...well, last Sunday (16 Nov) some serious shit hit the fan. A celestial fan, you might say. Here's a YouTube video, where there are a gazillion more, if you're into reality-disaster movies.



I would have liked to take some pictures, but I was kinda busy, with the kind help of a friend, holding a wooden blind against a window that had just had its main pane smashed in by an errant branch from a nearby tree. Just as well nobody had been sitting on the sofa immediately underneath the window!

One of the neighbors had their kitchen plus basically the rest of their house taken out by a gum tree that had stood some five meters from the house, but now rested cosily in the breach it had created in the roof.

Power in our area was out for two days and two nights, with a gazillion lines taken out by trees or just power poles that keeled over.

The devastation was very localized. One suburb might have looked like a post-hurricane area, while the adjacent one had...well, just a bit of rain, plus lighting and sundry, but no hail the size of golf balls—and in some areas tennis balls, and some days later in a little town called 'Blackwater' the size of small Cantaloupes!—or any of the winds that leveled the lovely green forest area that was such an attraction of where we live. Now we can see for miles, across the suburbs and right down to the ocean, far, far away.

Anyway, lots of cleanup and prepping for the next storm that's been announced for later this afternoon.

The main hobby around Brisbane's internet geeks is watching the weather radar. Right now, as I write this, it looks innocuous, but I've seen that before. Changes within the the hour. And everybody in the path of stuff that's red, deep read and black, ducks...

More thoughts on the aftermath in the next blog, coming, or so I hope, soon.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Jacaranda Snow

This is the time of year in Brisbane when the Jacaranda trees bloom and subsequently lose their blossoms—thousands of them. This is just one day's un-swept front yard...

The Victory Of Obama

All right, so that's the way it is.

The defeated candidate gave an incredibly gracious concession speech. The Winner gave a rousing victory oratory. He's got probably the best speechwriters since Reagan.

Like John McCain, I wish Obama well. My view of all politicians is jaundiced, but what matters is not the politicians themselves, but what effect their actions have on the world. Maybe, contrary to every single experience in known human history, Obama will 'be different'. Like creationism, there's no evidence to suggest that it might be so—but, hell, what have we go to lose? If I turn out to be wrong, I'll be the first and foremost to be happy about it.

It certainly was an interesting day!

It's In the Genes, Stupid!

I've been saying this for a long time, but it's sufficiently official now to talk about this again. Let me quote from this article:

"...our political attitudes have deep roots in our biology. Our place on the political spectrum - liberal, conservative, or in between - is powerfully influenced by genetics, new studies show. In the past year, researchers have demonstrated that the brains of liberals and conservatives are physically and functionally distinctive, suggesting that people on either side of the ideological divide are actually wired differently. And new research, published this fall in the prestigious journal Science, found that our immediate, unconscious reaction to threat - how much we startle at frightening images and noises - determines our political views on specific issues like gun control, national defense, the Iraq war, domestic surveillance, the torture of political prisoners, and even immigration."

Since the US is voting as I write this, consider the immediate corollary to all this:

The outcome of the US Presidential campaign is determined mainly by how many voters of either persuasion—pro-Obama or pro-McCain and what they stands for and are associated with—the candidates manage to get to turn out to vote.

None of this 'issue' stuff. The only effect of 'issues' was, again, mainly in how many voters the candidates were able to get to turn up to vote for them by using those issues to emotionally galvanize them. That doesn't just include those strongly influenced by their genetic makeup, though I doubt that a quoted estimate of only 50% of people being thus predisposed and influenced is reliable.

Anyway, whatever the merits and effects of 'issues', it appears that this one has run its course, thanks by and large to some truly bad political judgment by the current administration:

Right now it's all about the EEcOnomy and Wall Street and all that; with a goodly mix of "WE WANT CHANGE" thrown in. Until, that is, the next major terrorist attack on US soil, which will come about, and which will make 9/11 appear like a picnic.

"When we debate issues, in other words, we do not so much argue a political position as assert who we are," it says further down in the article, and this probably wraps it up nicely. However, I suggest that you read it in its entirety before you leap to the obvious conclusions, most of which will probably be based on long-held beliefs that may not pass a serious reality-check. Maybe the most interesting counter-intuitive revelations are that Conservatives are inclined to be more...well, let's call it 'sentimental'...than Liberals; because that's what it amounts to. Meaning probably that they're more in touch with their feelings.

Ahh, the irony—with the laugh being on the... well, you work that one out!

It's important to note that we're talking about 'predispositions'. But, let's face it, most people do tend to and think and feel what they're predisposed to; even, or maybe especially, those who consider themselves 'rational' and whose self-delusions tend to make them even more vulnerable to the consequences of their denial of their emotional nature.

Head in the sand and ass in the air...

P.S.

The quoted article itself appeared in a magazine with a definite Liberal bias, and needs to be considered with that in mind. The trashing of Conservatives is subtle but definite, as is evident in the terminology used. There's also a tendency to emphasize the large pool of those who resist their predispositions; thus making it appear as if the phenomenon were restricted to a, fairly thick, fringe of dumb-nuts. This is, of course, an expression of classic Liberal elitism.

So, take it with a goodly pinch of critical salt. Still, the essential content appears sound, as is evident when following the topic in further depth.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Which President are you electing, America?

Going to the polls in just over a day and trying to overcome apathy. A fate no worse than death; just...ahh, well, 'apathetic'—except for the fervent ones, of course, who will see Obama's face in clouds and plant roots. I shit you not! Judging from the adulation... But then again, many are the same that campaigned for Speed-boat Spike John Kerry four years ago.

Before going off to the polling booth though, let me remind my friends in the US0fA of some important issues—which aren't connected to either National Security or the EEcOnomy. Or maybe they're connected to both. Whatever. Schmatever.

Anyway, here's the thing. Remember that you are not voting for Obama or McCain, but for Biden or Palin. Reason for that is that neither of the two are going to be there for long. If Obama gets in he'll be waxed by some psycho, and that means President Joe-Foot-In-Mouth Biden. McCain is going to die of the ravages inflicted by life on his body quite soon, especially if subjected to the strains of the Presidency, and that means President Sarah Palin!

Cool, eh?

I know, I know, y'all sayin' now that that makes the choice kinda easier, because Biden has the advantage here hands down, right? Well, maybe and maybe not.

I can see the Obamaniacs having orgasms on Tuesday night, because he's gonna win by a landslide. It may take them a few months after him taking office to realize that nothing much has changed and that words are words, and deeds are deeds, and politicians will forever and a day remain politicians!

How can anybody with an IQ above 75 possibly be taken in by these people? And yet, there they go...

JESUS! He's frelling EVERYWHERE!

I've mentioned this lunatic phenomenon before. You know, Jesus' face on pieces of toast, the skins of shriveled tomatoes; and, in full 3-D, in the shape of plant roots. Now apparently he started watching us from the skies over Sydney, as proved by the presence of a cloud that bore his likeness. Talk about big brother. And you're worried about the government and the corporate world?

There's even a video, so see for yourself.



This apparently isn't the first time, and when I searched around a bit more I found a website called 'visionsofjesuschrist'—what else?—and from there I found a link to something called, wait for it!, SpiritDaily, which seems to be like an online tabloid detailing going on in the spiritual world. A kind of Holy Pravda.

Staring in your face when you hit SpiritDaily ('.com' of course!) is an ad for a book entitled The Other Side, subtexted 'Incredible Details of Eternity'.

After recovering from a near painful bout of laughter, I followed the link to the book to here, and found that the person who wrote it obviously has a direct line to said 'eternity'.

What happens when we die, how to prepare, and what Heaven is like.

Everything you've always wanted to know. I'm so glad somebody can tell us. And make money with it. Ahh, yes, Jesus provides.

Also, you may be interested to know that network theory has seized upon Jesus and, paralleling the human disease gene network map...

...there's also a Jesus Network Map...

Make of this what you will. As for me I'm still laughing.

Friday, October 31, 2008

'DANCE OF TIGERS' is dead. Long live 'ASLAM'.

When Tethys was finally done it still wasn't finished. When you come to think about it, stories seldom are; it's just that some are better off not told, and many, let's face it, should have been aborted long before they were.

At the time of concluding Tethys, I was also going through a period of fascination with Tigers. Truth be told, I am still fascinated with them, but after some time of reflection, occasioned by...well, 'circumstances' I guess...I've come to the conclusion that, appropriate though it is in terms of its main theme, the title 'Dance of Tigers' for the sequel to Tethys is wrong. I guess I always knew that, but even I occasionally live in denial. So sue me.

Anyway, above is the first design—emphasis is on 'design'!—for the cover of Aslam. As with the other covers it's a representation or a scene from the book. In the event, the scene gained shape in my head even as I started on the cover design.

A note on tools. The images are done using a 3-d design program called DAZ Studio, which you can get free from DAZ3D. I've given up on Poser, which I've used in the past, because after years of development, DAZ Studio, despite a bunch of configuration issues and being a PITA to set up on the Mac, has overtaken Poser as a 'usable' 3D modeling and rendering environment. The props, figures, clothing and hair used to create the 3D-part of the scene(s) can be obtained from DAZ3D at very sensible cost. Also, my old Poser libraries can be accessed from DAZ Studio, which means that the software transition doesn't mean I lose existing content. (I know this is geek-speak to a lot of people, but I thought I'd mention it anyway.)

I've learned not to set up the whole scene in one render, but in bits and pieces, that can be put together, and combined with photographs and tarted up with some TLC and my trusty graphic tablet, in Photoshop. What you see in the image above are the mostly un-Photoshopped compotite images. They'll still need a lot of work. It's always the last pase of the work that takes up most of one's time.

The title of the book, by the way, is the name of the largest of Tethys's continents. Aslam and what we'll find in its center derives from several sources. One is drawing of a 'land' that I wanted to use for another novel, but now decided to take as a setting for Aslam instead.

Never leave a perfectly good map unused.

The other motivation is that Fontaine and Tethys already created an initial social backdrop for the people of the giant oasis in Aslam's center. When Naela disguised herself as an 'Aslatrix' in order to leave the Valley a whole new story-thread was started, that culminated, of course, in the apperance of a 'real' Aslatrix in the character of 'Teris'. (And, yes, if you haven't read either of these books: tough cookies!)

Thus do story-tellers get themselves into trouble. The question about where Teris comes from, combined with the imminent appearance of the 'Controller', Gaston Huil, on Tethys, and just exactly what his plans are and how this all comes out...

Of course that's just 'plot'. 'Theme' is something else altogether, and what that is, is for me to know and the reader to find out—when I'm done. The privileges of the one who knows, over those who don't.

The central characters of Aslam are: Teris; Falcon; Mac; Naela; a friend of Mac's called 'Daveed', whom we first met in Tethys; a Sareen called 'Sendee', who appeared briefly in Fontaine; the Controller, Gaston Huil. Plus there's a supporting cast of the usual suspects, with a few new ones, some of them scary.

And that's all for this time. Aslam is definitely coming.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wolves and Dogs, TV, Computers, Stupidity: Domesticated and Dumbed-Down


Wolves are smarter than dogs.

(Actually wait for the laugh: initially I wrote that as 'Wolves are smarter than gods', which occasioned a chuckle or two, and might have been more than just a dyslexic typo.)

Back to wolves. The conclusion from this study is that domestication makes animals stupid.

If I had been kinder I would have said something more cautious than 'stupid', like 'less intelligent', but the bottom line is that domestication apparently suppresses the development of intelligence. The same, so a number of troubling studies have shown, does extensive exposure to TV and computers. There's some evidence that browsing the internet in the manner of a CSI detective following clues to find or uncover some critical item of information—but that's about the best news that comes out of computer and internet use in relation to human intelligence; and even that isn't all as simple and cool as it appears at first sight. The rest of the news, however, is all bad. Generation X may well be the dumbest ever, despite having more information at its fingertips than any that have gone before.

You can see the trend, yes? Computers become more 'intelligent' (as if anybody actually had a concept of what that means!) while people become dumber with each generation. One curve goes up, the other one goes down. Only question is where they'll cross...

The other issue in connection with that dog/wolves study is the whole 'domestication' thing. I mean, what is 'domestication'? Basically it describes what we do to certain creatures' behavior—and physical characteristics; think Chihuahuas!—in order to make them useful to us for our purposes; be it by providing of food, entertainment, companionship, protection or whatever we care to use them for. We would like them to do this without pissing or crapping in our houses, attacking us, running away and generally behaving in ways we consider to be inconvenient to us.

The leap from thinking of the domestication of animals to the domestication of people isn't that great. And when I look around me, I see nothing but domesticated people. Domesticated by civilization. Domesticated of their own free accord—or at least with their tactit, un-considered assent—and getting more so every day I'm watching them.

I know, in many ways it's been that way for a long time. Humans are social creatures, much of our intelligence is derived from our need to handle social interaction(s) and society demands conformity and humans have conformed for a long time; to the point of having this incorporated into their genes. Those who conformed were more likely to survive and breed than those who didn't and so on. So, in a way, one might argue that perhaps I'm just rediscovering the obvious, and what's so new about that?

Well, today's circumstances are different to, say, the ones, 1000 years ago. While then you definitely would have had 'conformance'—think of monotheist religions, which have the greatest conformance requirements—there was ample spiridiversity (diversity of the spirit, similar to 'biodiversity') because of comparatively primitive communications systems. There was also space to expand into; lands to conquer. I know this is un-PC, what with all the 'colonialist' baggage attached to it, but going out and conquering new lands or frontiers and doing what's known as 'pioneering', that's all about not being domesticated; indeed, about going out and searching for places in the world—and this extends to the 'world of the mind', if you will—that do not require one to be domesticated in order to be allowed to exist.

Mind you—and again the parallels between 'physical' and 'mental' pioneering should be obvious—a lot of pioneering was done by people who looked for places where they could establish a domesticated life. But at the time of doing it they weren't domesticated; whether driven by despair or just as sense of adventure, they went out and did undomesticated things. The rest stayed at home. Besides, I'm not sure that those who went 'out there' actually thought of what it all would lead to, but often just wanted to live their lives and care for their families. And 'real' Pioneers seldom think ahead of the world that's to come anyway. The pioneering itself is their adventure; the journey more important than where it leads. Others just make the journey to get somewhere. There's a profound difference between these kinds of people.

It seems to me that the lack of physical expansion space is matched by a general trend for everybody and sundry to work on consolidating and expanding and developing further that which is established. That goes for philosophy in particular, and technology and science exhibit similar trends. 'Art', which tends to consider itself as the place for 'breaking new ground' and opening new vistas and perspectives, certainly hasn't done any pioneering for...well, a long time! It just provides an illusory veneer to deceive ourselves about our domesticated lives and make them seem like something they are not. Meaning that Art's social function is really about 'denial'.

So, are we all becoming more stupid? While, as a species, we acquire more and more information and find out more and more about how things work and hang together, is there nonetheless a fiendish corollary to that, which states that as individuals we are becoming less and less intelligent, flexible, versatile, adaptible and so on?

What a horrific price to pay that would be...

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Queensland's Sky Is Falling

There's an epidemic at the moment, expressing maybe a deep-set fear of Queensland politicians that maybe there are large hard objects waiting to fall onto them from the blue, sunny skies—and I'm not talking about golf-ball sized ailstones, of which there are aplenty at the moment. How else could one sensibly explain the current propensity for everybody and sundry—though often female!—of wearing hard hats when being interviewed by reporters? It started with the Queensland Premier, Anna Bligh, and has—judging from todays appearance on the news by one of her female ministers, Judy Spence— propagated through the ranks of her government like the flu.

The Brisbane mayor also is fond of this kind of headgear. And, let's face it, he may have even more reasons to protect his precious noodle than the state's Premier.

And, yes, I know they'll explain all this away by pointing out that they're spending a lot of time on building sites and such-like. Excuses, excuses. Blahblahblah.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

US Elections, Outcome Predictions

So, folks, here I am going to stick out my neck and predict not only the immediate outcome of the US election, but also the longer-term effects.

Immediate:

Obama will win, by what may be a landslide. (Doesn't take a magic well to work that one out; though there's an off-chance that McCain will miraculously turns his fortunes around. The man will need help from God and there is no God.)

Longer-term:

The international situation will become very dangerous because of Obama's election, as—a scenario raised by Obama's running mate, the gaffe-ridden Joe Biden—every weirdo potentate, with Putin at the forefront, will have a go at trying the pipsqueak out for size. Said pipsqueak will blink—at least I hope he will. We wouldn't want a repeat of the Cuba debacle when JFK nearly got us all killed.

As a result of blinking—the first blink in a long line of what's going to look like pathological eyelid flickers—the US will eventually go from looking like a bullyboy to looking like a pansy. Obama's Presidency is basically going to be like a mix between the less savory aspects of Jimmy Carter's and Bill Clinton's.

And as far as the EEcOnomy is concerned—US and World—nothing will change where the juggernaut is heading right now. Human stupidity and CO2 have a lot in common. You go and figure that one out for yourself!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Dollhouse

OK, so just to whet your appetite...



And here's more.

The Vultures Are Circling

One of the laws of...well, 'society' I guess...is that someone always profits from even the worst of things; and I'm not talking about things that are being made to happen, but just contingency. Relating to this, the following headline caught my eye:

Baby boomer deaths could fuel funeral industry

"...funeral directors await perhaps their greatest windfall ever: The death of the baby boom generation. ..."

No shit! I mean, this is getting kind of personal, what with me plus a lot of my friends being a member of that generation. Thinking of these people rubbing their hands in anticipation makes me want to puke. Never mind the 'everybody has to make a living' and crap like that. And there's also the argument that what's quaintly called 'funeral homes' actually perform a community service. Yeah, right! Indeed, I know people who have either worked in such places or have expressed an interest in doing so. In each case they have expressed their belief that they're rendering a service to the grieving ones left behind.

On a personal level, I don't doubt these folks' sincerity and compassion. But as an 'industry' and from a managerial point of view I doubt very much that anything but 'profits' and cold, hard business sense are the driving motives for running these enterprises. And if you thought that the rapaciousness of those currently actually profiting from the worldwide economic slump was objectionable, what about those making handy bucks from what is, by and large, the worst thing that can befall any of us?

You know, with all the anti-war, anti-MacDonalds, anti-'corporation' movies having been made, how about someone picking on the funeral industry? I'd also suggest anti-church, but that's been done, too. But the whole religious thing is closely tied up with the 'death' issue, so one could handily combine a really serious, nasty satire of funeral industry and churches all in one go.

Meanwhile, here's one corpse that your friendly next-door 'funeral home' won't have to process to any great degree, as the relatives already took care of most of that.

Family cremated mom on BBQ, kept benefits

I wonder what the actual charges are going to be, next to 'welfare fraud', of course. Maybe something like 'performing an unlicensed cremation'; or 'conducting funeral business on unlicensed premises'?

For something just a tad more cheerful, here's this:

Graffiti wall is vandalised

What's the world coming to?

Friday, October 10, 2008

Body of Lies



Films involving 'current events'--particularly those relating to anything happening in the Middle East and Terrorism--tend to be soaked in the writers', producers' and director's politics, which usually end up very much in-your-face and spoil the film, because you suddenly lose the story and drown in the preaching and proselytizing.

Ridley Scott, who has already addressed the West-East/Christianity-Islam issue in a previous film, Kingdom of Heaven, this time bit the bullet (instead of the sword) and continued KoH's story about 1000 years later. Body of Lies is very much a Ridley Scott movie and this translates into the film's politics as well. Thing is, you can't leave politics out of a political movie; and so what do you do?

Well, here's a newsflash for the poli-preachers on all sides: it's possible to have it all, and just watch Ridley Scott do it. Just like KoH, it's all about even-handedness and realizing that (1) every side in a conflict has a point of view, which, to itself, is perfectly valid; and (2) every side has people you'd probably like and some you really wouldn't, (3) the way to peace lies with understanding (1) and (2); and not with having just one point of view, no matter how righteous it may appear. Both, Islamophobes and Islamophiles--or those on the extremes of any aspect of the political spectrum--will probably find ample elements to dislike about this film. Others of a more moderate and even-handed disposition will find much to like and appreciate.

All of this, rather profound, stuff is wrapped up in a gritty Ridley Scott production and direction, that keeps your full attention for its full 2+ hours. Leonardo DiCaprio has really grown up and cast off his annoying persona, which was so prominent in just about all his movies; until 'Blood Diamond' came along. Russell Crowe is basically a secondary character, eclipsed almost completely by DiCaprio and Mark Strong. The latter has come a long way since I first saw him in the BBC production of Jane Austen's Emma. The gentle and understated romance element provided by Golshifteh Farahani as 'Aisha' provided a nice contrast to the testosterone-soaked male world in which this drama plays out.

The movie confirms what I've known for a long time: Ridley Scott apparently can do no wrong.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

The Eyes Have It



The Good, The Bad and the Ridiculous

Let's start with the Bad:

Global Credit Crisis.

Shit finally hit the fan and is being sprayed all over this lovely world of ours. Main villains: The opportunist, selfish and utterly despicable rip-off artists profiting from this. I think I prefer serial killers.

The Good:

We live in Australia now.

The Ridiculous:

Barrack Obama and John McCain. The one an vacuous, but messianic, figure; laughing his ass off about those retards who think he's going to save them and the world. The other an old, tired, spent loser. One of them will be the next US President. The mind boggles.

Not that we have anything to crow about. Helen Clark in NZ and Kevin Rudd in Australia...

One of these days—maybe, probably not—we'll be graced with a 'statesman' in a leading position in one of our democracies. But I wouldn't hold my breath! And I do have utopian daydreams every now and then, too.

Saturday, October 04, 2008

'The Unit' Returns

Only thing better than CSI:Miami on TV right now is The Unit. And they're back, after far too long a time, because of the damn Writer's strike earlier this year.

But when they came back, they did it with a bang. Had me on the edge of my seat and panting for more. Still the best show around.

So, of the current shows, here are my favorites from the selection of those I actually have time for, and that isn't for much:
  1. The Unit
  2. CSI:Miami
  3. Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles
  4. Bones
  5. Heroes
Yeah, I know, how can Heroes be down there in 5th place? Well, it's very cool, but too big and portentous in many places. The other three shows make do with 'mere' human drama and without grand 'concepts', and they show that it can be done really well and without needing fancy, complicated and significant back stories. Just good old murder and betrayal and revenge and love and all the good things in life. What else do we really need?

Friday, October 03, 2008

Why I Love CSI: MIAMI (All In)

I started watching CSI shows way back, when the CSI (Las Vegas) was the only one around. Then came CSI:Miami and I never looked back. Las Vegas became an option, and CSI:NY was cool but never could hold he water, or the gator or the sun and guns, to CSI:Miami.

Yeah, I know, David Caruso, a.k.a. Horatio Caine, a.k.a. 'H', is an arrogant pain in the ass. He has some very annoying habits, and Caruso wears him like...well, Caruso. But he's infinitely more interesting as a character than the other leads from the CSI shows. So are the other characters. There's a good reason for that because, as someone once said, everybody in CSI:Miami walks around as if they expected a bomb to go off at any moment. It's been like that since day one, and it never stopped, and it keeps working.

Above all, CSI:Miami minimizes the 'procedural' aspects over human drama. 'H' is happy to push the notion that 'the evidence' will get the bad guys behind bars or under ground, but he doesn't have the fervor of Gil Grissom or Mac Taylor. Also, Grissom and Taylor, despite being 'edgy', are just about as law-abiding as you can get; with occasional lapses. 'H' on the other hand is much more visceral end emotive. He's painted as a very ambiguous hero, but still a definite 'hero'; definitely larger than life. Cross him the wrong way and you're meat. But he's also your classic chivalrous guy when it comes to women, has almost infinite compassion with children and teenagers even if they're on the way to being scum, and he's fiercely loyal to his friends and family. When his wife of just a very short time, Marisol—sister to one of Caine's underlings and friends, Eric Delco—is murdered, he has no qualms about following the murderer to Brazil and offing him there.

When later that year (Episode 6-15) the thing comes home to roost, and Horatio is extradited to Brazil to face charges of murder there, he is confronted with an official who basically hands him a gun, tells him "good luck" and sends him out to face down a bunch of gangland buddies of the man Caine killed.

And it is here that the incredible genius of the whole damn show is revealed. Because I always kind of thought that maybe if Sergio Leone had ended up producing a CSI show, CSI:Miami would have been the outcome. If you play the first clip below, the homage to Sergio Leone is completely in-your-face, with a variation on the harmonica theme from Once Upon A Time In The West as the soundtrack. This is from the beginning of Episode 6-16, All In.




There, hope you enjoyed that.

The next clip is from the end of the same episode, where the boys from the crime lab rescue their kidnapped colleague, Calleigh. Note the reprise of the Western themes, together with a homage to Tarantino flicks as well.

Genius. As I said, the other shows don't even come close.