Category Archives: BOOKS, MOVIES, TV, MUSIC

Tinker, Tailor, FBI.

Now that I’ve had a chance to see both the new Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and J. Edgar, I want to make some comments before they’re out on video already for a year or two. It’s so rare that I get to see Oscar-potential movies while they’re actually in the theaters (last year, I had a three-movie-marathon with True Grit, The King’s Speech, and . . . I forget . . . all in one day (thanks to a regular theater, a 2nd-run theater, and a re-release to a wider audience). But I digress.

First, Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy as directed by the director of the original Swedish vampire film that made me think vampires could be interesting again, Let the Right One In. A truly inspired bit of daring movie-making, that one. With TTSS, he brought along his truly wonderful talent at evoking atmosphere and style, but I was rather underwhelmed by the film as a whole. There’s really nothing I can pinpoint as any one particularly weak point (except maybe the somewhat impenetrable script — but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If everything else is good, and I get a sense that the plot is making sense, I can let a dense script I’m not immediately grokking wash over me knowing I can watch it again some other time for the details). But even the script isn’t a failure by any means; the dialog was well-written with the tension-filled spareness of a Pinter play.

The acting was also quite good all-round — but I wasn’t blown away. Which is my failing. For months, I’d been so worked up about this film, about Gary Oldman, that I expected a tour de force performance. What I got was skillful subtlety, and natural and believable underplayed drama. Well, except for John Hurt, but then, his angry forcefulness was exactly what was needed and entirely appropriate for character and tone.

This asplosion not in any film reviewed here. Or, anywhere.

Did I not like it as much as I was hoping because, what, I was expecting a Bourne movie? Bond? Mission Impossible? No. I’m familiar with the book (though I haven’t read it) and the original production, so I knew it was going to be a realistic, non-explody, spy film. I loved The American, for example, even though — no, because — it was stark and understated and atmospheric and tension-building and virtually no actiony-action. (I’m actually the only person I know who liked The American.) But then, I really didn’t know what to expect with The American except that it’d been described as a European-like film — which is a plus in my book! I simply, for some unknown reason, went into TTSS with high expectations — and they were ironically fulfilled in that it’s an excellent film, but not what I expected.

Then there’s J. Edgar. I pretty much got exactly what I expected with that film, and that may be one of the reasons for its surprisingly low RottenTomatoes score (although Ebert, who I almost always agree with, gave it a high 3.5 arbitrary stars). It was a rough, uneven, hit-and-miss film with much unfulfilled potential. Part of the problem is Leonardo DiCaprio. I can’t buy him. I recognize he’s a good actor who takes on challenging roles, but he’s . . . so . . . it’s the very weird dissonance he creates in my mind where I can’t decide if he did well or not, like one of those “magic eye” pictures where if you work at it, the 3D image will pop out at you — but usually, it’s just lingering on the edge of being and you know you can bring it into focus if you try. . . . Anyway, that’s DiCaprio for me in any adult role he’s in. He was great in Gilbert Grape, perfect in Titanic, quite wonderful in Gangs of New York. But I could just barely accept him in Shutter Island (good film!), though, I’ll admit, I accepted him in Inception. But as J. Edgar Hoover, I just can’t quite bring my opinion of his performance in focus, but I’m pretty sure I see the outline of an opinion that he was out of his depth and gave a pretty 1.75-note performance. His squint gave the other .25.

Oh, and don’t get me started on the makeup! OK, DiCaprio’s was passable, but what the heck was the Play-Dough and stipple monstrosity that was “Clyde Tolson”? It looked like Odo came back from Deep Space 9 with chicken pox and a bee sting allergy. Also, the film skipped around in time indiscernibly. It wouldn’t have been a problem if it had been two or three very different time-lines that went along at their own, but chronically forward, line — but there were points in which it skipped around in time just enough where you couldn’t quite tell by any visual cue if it went forward 1 year or 15 before skipping back 30.

Those flaws aside, the story surrounding Hoover and his longtime companion and possible lover, Clyde Tolson, was nearly perfect in its level of intimacy, its tone, and its anxiety. They played it quite well. Although, unfortunately, there’s one scene in which they have a fight resulting from Hoover’s repressed fear and Tolson’s sense of betrayal, in which they’re rolling around on each other and despite the sincere drama of the moment, I couldn’t help but hear Mark Russell in my head singing, “Sexual, subli-MA-tionnn . . . sexual SUB-li-ma-tion. . . .” It was just too contrived and blatant. But, as a whole, as I said, it was well-done and dramatic as I couldn’t help but cry a little at the end in Hoover’s bedroom.

But, being the Marxist that I am, I couldn’t help but see the movie from another perspective. Most of Hoover’s career was, as was depicted in the film, an obsession with a war against terror, I mean, against the Commie Menace. Now, I know Clint Eastwood, socially and politically, is a complex guy who has a foot in both the liberal progressive and the conservative camps, so I’m not terribly certain whether he wants us to cheer for Hoover and his elimination of communism in America (after all, the only depiction we get of the people Hoover fought were legitimately dangerous and violent anarchists — which, by the way, is a different ideology from communism), and no glimpse of American socialism of the 1910s through 30s that wasn’t through Hoover’s eyes, or whether he wants us to realize Hoover’s view is a skewed and ideological one. Is Eastwood taking it for granted that the audience knows who Emma Goldman was and what the Chicago union strikes were all about? Or does he side with Hoover’s ideals, but just not as neurotic about it as Hoover was?

In any case, I booed (mentally) with the 1919 anarchist bombings, sure; but, when Emma Goldman, the mother of American anarcho-socialism, appeared (and with such an eerie likeness that I questioned the accuracy of Maureen Stapleton’s portrayal of her in Warren Beatty’s epic film, Reds), I cheered! She’s a hero in my book, and a movie very desperately needs to be made about her. (Probable sociopath Ayn Rand got a sympatheric TV movie made about her, but Emma just gets cameos.) But as I was saying, in this time of the 2nd great-ish depression, thinking about the fascist iron fist that was brought to bear down on the nascent socialist movement in America during the 1st Great Depression, makes me frustrated and angry. People today have no clue that, especially before WWI but continuing into the Depression, the socialist party was a viable and legitimate party in America with supporters from all walks of life (except the wealthy capitalists, the politicians they bought, and the police they used to protect them), from Woody Guthrie to John Steinbeck to Albert Einstein.

If the development of modern capitalism had been mitigated and wasn’t allowed to take complete dominance in America in the early 20th century, I’m just guessing here of course, but I seriously doubt we’d have the boom-bust collapse of the economy across the predominately postmodern capitalist world we have now. (But then, to be fair, capitalism was needed then in order to get us to a state where it can destroy itself by making capital wealth ownership by the few, unnecessary. Which is the state we’re now in, with capitalism self-destructing.) But, if socialism had been allowed to remain side-by-side with capitalism — even if in a lesser role — and share the “base,” then when capitalism collapsed as a viable socio-economic model, viable and evolved socialist models for the 21st century could’ve been ready to take over. Yet, thanks to the war-on-pinkos waged by the likes of Hoover (and McCarthy, whom, according to this film, Hoover disliked greatly), all reasonable ideas of socialism were lumped in with the violent anarchists and eradicated as one boogey-scapegoat. And, while Hoover’s pet project and legacy, the FBI, became enviable in the realm of criminal investigation, I’m less than pleased about how corrupt, like most of government, it has become. (Although, really, with all the bugging and wiretapping the FBI was doing in the film, often for Hoover’s own secret personal files, I guess they really haven’t changed all that much!)

So, what was Eastwood’s point? Does he share his contemporary, Beatty’s, leftist sensibilities and made Hoover into a murkily depicted ideologue who changed history on his own terms? Or as a flawed hero who but for being sadly repressed (I know, fortunately, Eastwood’s liberal progressive opinions on homosexuality) and conflicted, did the right thing, badly? I can’t tell. And I don’t think that ambiguity, useful in arthouse films, is a good thing in this very Hollywood biopic.

No Dragon Tattoo? No Hamlet or Requiem, either.

Here soon will be the release of another major studio remake of a popular and critically acclaimed foreign film, “The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.” And already I’ve had the debates with people over the inherent “evilness” of remaking foreign films into English versions. “Why should anyone bother,” some people say. “After all, there’s already perfectly good English subtitled versions available on DVD and Netflix. American remakes are just crass ploys to make money and cater to dumb Americans who can’t be bothered to read,” so the argument goes. Invariably, in these debates in which I offer the counterpoint to this position, in which I offer that not only are remakes not evil, but are inherently good, I end up pissing people off for some reason. I hope to be able to make my case here, for your consideration, and I’ll try not to offend, if you’ll bear with me.

If you believe no one should remake movies, especially foreign films, then you’re an arrogant elitist.

Gawdangit, I just did it, didn’t I? Got offensive? I’m sorry, but honestly, I can’t think of another way to describe the belief that, sight unseen, even before it’s finished, a movie can be judged as unworthy of existing because it dares to use a pre-existing script as its source. If works of art and/or entertainment are inherently bad for that reason, then why do we bother doing Shakespeare? Why do we get all excited about this version or that version of Hamlet? Why do we discuss our favorite version of Romeo and Juliet? Why is it OK for a director to make a version of a work of Shakespeare that’s “more accessible” to modern audiences? Where’s the cries of, “If you can’t be bothered to understand Elizabethan English, you don’t deserve to watch Shakespeare?”

Why are there countless CDs of countless classical works of music arranged in countless ways and performed by countless ensembles and orchestras and soloists, and no one bats an eye about that? Isn’t the London Symphony Orchestra’s 1968 recording of Beethoven’s 9th good enough? Why do we need the Cleveland orchestra to do it too? It’s been done already, why bother?

Look, I get it. I’m a card-carrying elitist myself. Subtitles are far preferable to dubbing, NASCAR is for rednecks, wine appreciation takes a sophisticated palate. I used to think foreign films are “better” than American and if you don’t like them, then go back to your “American Idol.” Maybe it was my Marxist education, maybe it’s my education and experience as a stage actor and director, or maybe I just realized after seeing one too many incomprehensible and pretentious art-house film, that there’s nothing written in the immutable laws of nature that says foreign films are inherently better, and that film is somehow prohibited from being remade like we do plays and music.

Why do plays get a pass? The usual response is: Because they’re made to be performed live, that’s the expectation. OK, sure. Then why make movies of plays? Anything by Shakespeare to Tim Rice. From Othello to Death of a Salesman to The Producers. Why does a play not, once it’s been made into a film, get the remake embargo? But more importantly, what law of nature says it’s verboten to give the same allowance to a movie?

“Because the Americans just want to make money.” Sure they do. So do the French and the Swedes and the Germans. Very few people, no matter what language they speak, put a film up for major release without the intent to try to make some money off it. But OK, let’s say that the American studio producer is just a cynical d-bag who sees a successful foreign film and decides, “Hey! Let’s make it here and get rich(er)!” The film doesn’t then just appear from out of the will of the producer. It needs a script writer, it needs a director, it needs cinematographer and costume designer and actors. Are some of the above, and the scores of others who appear in a film’s credits, completely mercenary? Will do anything only for a paycheck? Sure. But I would hazard that most of the people involved in the creative part of the film, not just the grips and the seamstresses, actually care about their craft. Gasp! Yes, it’s true! They do. Most directors, most actors, take on projects and roles because something about it speaks to them. Something about the themes is compelling, something about the characters is interesting, and so the creators do it for the same reason the director of a play stages another version of Macbeth, the same reason an actor portrays another version of Willy Loman.

Do you think that Rooney Mara took the role of Lisbeth in Fincher’s “Girl With the Dragon Tattoo” simply because it’s a paycheck? Or maybe because, as an actress, she lives to play interesting and compelling characters, and wants to see what she could do with the role the same way a stage actor wants to play Lady Macbeth? Don’t you think director Matt Reeves took on “Let Me In,” the “remake” of “Let the Right One In,” only to become rich, or, like a theatre director, is compelled to want to bring to life an interesting work in his own way? Should creators of art be prohibited from plying their craft and using their own vision simply because, “Nuh-uh, that film has already been done, bucko! No one can do it again!”?

I find it interesting that the people who railed against the American version of the novel Låt Den Rätte Komma In seem to have no problems with the fact that the original Swedish film is a translation of a novel in the first place. Hey! They story’s been done already! If you can’t be bothered to read the book, you don’t deserve to see the film!

“Well, Americans just can’t read and are lazy so they hate subtitles and that’s why they’re making an American version.” OK, see all the above — it still applies. But you know what? So what if some, many, people don’t like to read their movies. Me, I’m fortunate in that I can read fast and have great comprehension, which allows me to quickly read the words then look up at the facial expressions and listen to the tone of voice. But I’m lucky in that way. If I had to read slower, I would hate subtitled films, because it’s a film! I get most of my enjoyment from the film by looking at what’s going on, looking at facial expressions, hearing the inflection of voice. And so do most people. Does that make them lazy? Uneducated?

And when you come right down to it, if a film is all that great, that much of a masterpiece, then answer this: Is it better for the film not to be seen at all if it can’t be seen in the “original” subtitled version? If your answer to that is “yes,” then you are exactly the definition of an arrogant elitist.

Finally, really, what in the world does it truly matter if someone remakes a film? Does it do you any harm in some way? Are you being forced to see it? Are you being taken against your will to the remake? Really, who the eff cares. Especially if the originally is still around and available. In fact, very often, an American remake of a foreign film gets the original a bus-load of attention and new fans it never would have before. Virtually no one but the most edgy j-horror fans knew of “Ringu” before the American remake, “The Ring.” Now, I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of Americans who have seen and appreciate “Ringu” only because they heard of “The Ring” is more than double-quadrupled from before the remake. After an American remake, the original often gets repackaged, re-released (or even released in the first place!) and finds its place on shelves and Netflix where it wouldn’t have before.

Oh, but, maybe that’s a bad thing? Maybe you don’t want more people to know about the original? Maybe you want to be part of the exclusive in-crowd who knew X was cool before it became popular? If so, guess what: arrogant elitist.

I really started this with the intention to be calm and friendly, but something about arguing (even against an imaginary opponent… boy am I sad!) against the presumptive arrogance that a movie is “bad” without anyone having seen it, for nothing more than the sin of being made into English by an American, just really gets my blood boiling. I need a nap.

Be it resolved…

This has, without a doubt, been an absolutely terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. Probably the worst one, evah! (The only, and I mean only, bright spot was I finally got my Masters Degree in English . . . and even that’s pending until next year when I pay for and turn in super-expensive copies of my thesis and pay the rest of my school bill — not counting, of course, student loans I need to start paying on.) The badness is butting right up to the very end of the year in the last days. There’s been serious financial difficulties; there’s been a scary person, terrorizing my private and work life because they were offended by a political opinion I expresses online; there’s been legal scares; I’ve failed to make any progress on any of my writing career goals; our beloved family pet died; and the turmoil associated with completing my previously mentioned thesis. This year can’t end soon enough.

With the coming of this completely arbitrarily demarcated new year and new decade (contrary to popular opinion, decades begin on “1” years, e.g.: 2011, not “0,” e.g.: 2010), I need to make some serious changes; I need to refocus, re-prioritize, and start anew. As someone I don’t recall said, “If you want things to be different, you must do something different.”

Part of my problem is frakkin’ Facebook. It’s an evil, evil bane on productivity and a facilitator of my getting distracted and bent-out-of-shape about subjects that, while are important, serves only to make me upset and completely unproductive in regards to what’s even more important in my life: my nascent, budding writing career that I hope to make into a viable “second job,” with aspirations of it being my main job within a couple/few years.

In addition to the craptacular events that have sideswiped me and/or made me utter a general “WTF, world? W. T. F.?!” every other week, it seems, I recently read a blog post by writer/director Kevin Smith: “SMonologue #2.” The first half he discusses “Clerks 3” and the cost/process of investing in a movie idea and making it happen. But the important bit is the last half, in which he writes:

Continue reading Be it resolved…

Discover… The Power of Stuff!

My daughter (and I, when I’m too lazy to work on writing like I should), watches a lot of Discovery Kids Channel. It has a lot of non-U.S. programming that’s a few years old, but much of it is educational or at least semi-educational while still being entertaining.

Well, I discovered a couple of days ago that Hasbro acquired controlling ownership in the channel, and they’re giving the channel a complete makeover including a new name (The Hub) and programming line-up. I took a look at the new line-up, and saw something interesting, but not surprising considering who bought them: the educational programming is being replaced with high quality shows like “Transformers”, “G.I. Joe”, “Pound Puppies”, “Family Game Night”, “Clue”, and the like. Your basic 30-minute product commercials.

I took a look at the shows that my daughter watches on the channel, where they’re made, and their focus, and found this:

Continue reading Discover… The Power of Stuff!

What good are unions?

Oh my! It’s hard to argue with that cartoon! Look how evil and scary unions are.
Are you an American who believes unions are organized extortion, protecting the lazy and demanding luxuries like Bon-Bons for workers?
Please take 30 minutes of your day to listen to the 1st half of this Small World podcast for the interview with Cory Doctorow. They mainly discuss his new YA novel, but they also talk about unions and workers organizing. I think it’s well worth the listen!

Then, after you listen, give this and this a read for some of the evils of organized labor.

A doubleplus good day!

And why is today, just more than half done, and beset by a major setback, such a good day?

I was able to take a 2-hour lunch which allowed me to spend a little time browsing at Barnes and Noble, pick up a paperback, and eat leisurely while reading. That’s it. That right there is a sure-fire way for me to have a great day!

I think part of it comes from back in high school, YEARS ago *pout*, when I worked at the local small town Pizza Hut. I’d get off work late at night, but the local grocery store (this was before Walmart took over) would still be open. In I’d walk and with a bit from my wad of tips money I’d buy a new paperback. There was no Web, no cell phones — I’d have to browse the backs and pick some scifi or fantasy novel that promised excitement and adventure.

Then home to my basement bedroom where I’d read ’til I fell asleep. And, nearly always, I would keep on reading the next day during all my classes, book snuggly wedged against my lap and my desk. I seriously doubt I actually fooled any of my teachers; I guess they didn’t really care. (There’s probably a reason the only AP class I had was English.)

These were halcyon days where I went through probably 3 to 5 books a week, I discovered Steven Brust and his Vlad Taltos series, and had no obligations except to speech-and-debate and to immerse myself in my passion for SF. These were good years! (Aside from, of course, the mind-crushingly angst-ridden sexual frustration, which is also probably a result of my obsession with speech/debate and reading SF.)

So today, taking this very rare time to enjoy a mid-day book-buying break and reading just for pleasure, has washed away, even if for a shirt time, all my current troubles and worries. I’ve decided I absolutely must request a 2-hour lunch once a week.

Life is too short and wonderful to find yourself mired in spirit-crushing worries and drudgeries of life! Find those little things that make you truly happy and embrace them. Celebrate them. Enjoy living!

Dies the Book

Book: Dies the Fire(This review originally published on my GrogMonkey blog:

As a new year’s resolution, I’m hoping to do more quick, literary themed writing, i.e.: book reviews and the like. I’ve been reading a lot of books lately (e.g.: the entire Vlad Taltos series, again) and would like to review them. (Actually, I’m in the early process of writing a scholarly paper on Steven Brust’s Dragaeran books and their use of Marxist theory.)

Anyway, here’s my first review of the year, and it’s a bit of a cheat…I didn’t finish it. I couldn’t finish it. It’s S. M. Stirling’s Dies the Fire: A Novel of the Change. It’s the first in a trilogy, which is itself the first of two trilogies (so far). The conceit is really fascinating: for some unknown reason all modern (circa last 1000 years) technology stops working: electronics, gunpowder, internal combustion. The book follows two separate groups as they deal with what’s happened, find and join with other people, and try to find a place to set up and survive. One group led by a competent ex-Marine and pilot, the other by a stereotypical red-haired Celtic music playing Wiccan and her merry band of Wiccans.

The setting is compelling and intriguing and has so much potential! But it’s utterly squandered by Stirling. This is the first book, I think, that I’ve ever intentionally put down half-way through (as opposed to just kinda forgetting about and losing interest in). To review why requires spoilers:

Continue reading Dies the Book

Remember, remember the 5th of November. Maybe.

In honor of Guy Fawkes Day this Nov. 5th (Wiki link)* are a couple of links for light reading:

A recent musing of mine on anarchy and democracy: link

An excellent (and scary-sad) collection from Classically Liberal of examples of police state abuse and misconduct.

* Like most things in postmodern culture, this topic is well filled with contradictions. Guy Fawkes, for example, was not truly an anarchist (as far as I can tell). He, along with his cohorts, were simply p.o.ed that Catholics were being descriminated by the Protestant British government and decided to get rid of it, hoping to establish a Catholic-friendly one. (*sigh* what, religious violence again!?)

Guy Fawkes ironically became a symbol of later anrchistic movements despite his basically being just a religious terrorist.

Guy Fawkes was also appropriated by the British cultural hegemony as a symbol of celebrating the God-protected and ordained rule of proper British royalty. (Much like how Hitler propagandized his surviving the Valkyrie assassination attempt as a sign that God protected his divinely ordained Third Reich. [I may have just Godwined myself, but it just goes to show that anyone and everyone can and does invoke God’s favor when things go well for them.])

And now there’s this Anonymous group appropriating Guy Fawkes to protest Scientology. Interestingly, as this is a quasi-religious fight, this may actually be a more “appropriate” use of Guy’s image… if not for the fact that what they’re really doing is using the image created by the film “V for Vendetta”. They’ve taken an image crafted for entertainment consumption, based on a hyperreality of an appropriated image, of a man whose purpose has been fictionalized by one group and celebrated for it’s failure by another group for ideological justification…

Ow. Jean Baudrillard is probably laughing in his grave over this a-historical postmodern pastiche! (I think I see a scholarly paper in this!)

“The End of the Beginning” now released!

My new short story has been published! I’m, oh, just a little excited.

The story, “The End of the Beginning,” is in the latest edition of M-BRANE SF magazine, issue number 10. You have a few quick, easy, and inexpensive methods of getting it:

Visit this URL: and on the right-hand side you’ll find the options:

  • Buy it in print through Lulu for $7.95 (direct link)
  • Buy a single PDF copy for $2.00
  • For the Amazon Kindle for $2.99 (direct link)
  • For the MobiPocket version for $1.99 (direct link)
  • Subscribe to a year of M-BRANE SF for $12! (A real steal!)
  • (You can also just donate to the writer’s fund; I’m sure they’d really appreciate it!)

(NOTE! As of this writing, the Amazon and the MobiPocket versions aren’t yet available. If you want it for Kindle or Mobi-compatible reader, please check those sites in a couple days or so.)

“The End of the Beginning” was a fun story to write. It started with my musing about the eventual heat-death of the universe and just flowed from there in just an hour. (Plus, of course, some significant time editing to make it at least slightly readable.) As for the rest of the stories in issue #10, can’t say. I haven’t read it yet as the second it came available ti started writing this post. 🙂 But the stories found in issue #1 (which you can get for free) and #9 are varied and interesting!

Anyway, if I may beg, please support struggling authors and the publishers that give them a voice and buy yourself a copy! 🙂

Moon City Review 2009Don’t forget, you can also get my first published story, “A Price in Every Box” (huh, I’m sensing a theme in my titles) in Moon City Review 2009. It’s available for $15.95 or through Amazon for $12.44. That story is kind of a contemporary fantasy, or maybe slipstream if you will. The book itself is a very eclectic collection of all different genres, including poetry and photography. So if you don’t like all SF, give Moon City Review a try!

(And keep your eye open, sometime next year the book Confederate Girlhoods: A Women’s History of Early Springfield, Missouri will become available. I helped edit it and contributed a little original text for it.)

Continue reading “The End of the Beginning” now released!

“The Despot Lincoln”

This post may get me back into the good graces of my libertarian friends (hi, Tony *grin*). Got clued in via Twitter to a recent review titled “The Despot Lincoln” of a 2002 book, The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War. (Seems the Republican penchant for unnecessary wars goes back a ways.)

To be fair: I’ve not read this book, only the review of it, so I’m kind of talking about something twice removed. But that’s ok–I’m actually going to be talking around the subject and about the review itself anyway.

So, evidently this book deconstructs the legend and the myth of Lincoln and really gets into the reality of his politics, policies, and socio-political beliefs based on his actions during his presidency and his time in Illinois politics. It turns out that an overarching belief of Lincoln was a strong federal government in control of social organization, individual state affairs and commerce, and the structure of mercantilism (which, by the way, was the socio-economic base preceding true and modern capitalism). And the Civil War was less to do with slavery than about federal (and imperial) control of the resources and wealth of the South.

Years and years ago, even a little into my teens, long before I had any ideas of libertarianism or especially Marxist criticism, I thought there was something wrong with the whole Civil War story we’re taught through both school and culture (the former really being a tool of the later, anyway). War itself is wrong, but that’s beside the point: What’s really going on that half a nation would want to split from the rest, and the side that controlled the organized military should act just like the empire we fought not a hundred years earlier to be free of in using armed force to prevent it? The idea that it was all about freeing the slaves didn’t ring true to me and seemed implausible, and for some vague and esoteric idea of simply keeping One Nation together is an even worse idea. (You don’t wage bloody war against your brother for some phantom notion of nationalism–at least, no rational person does. And if they do, how horrifically immoral and vile of an act is that!?)

No, even back when I still thought Marxism was the equivelent of Satanism, I understood it must have to do with economics, wealth, resources. (Later, as a Marxist, I’d learn that all wars are fundamentally about economics and resources.)

Ironically, this review of the book (and presumedly the book itself) while critiquing Lincoln’s political and war motivations as being economically motivated, (which is what materialist Marxism is all about doing), the review (and, again, evidentally the book) spends some time railing against some early 20th century American Maxist-Leninists who were working hard as historical revisionists to white-wash Lincoln and put a positive spin on his fascio-socialist politics. Now, these guys the review/book mention may very well have been Marxists, I don’t know. I’ll grant them this. And if true, the review/book is factually correct on this count and that’s fine. But the strong implication of both is that this is evidence that goes to the arguement that all Marxists approve of fascism and imperialim and seek to promote the kind of centralized goverment control of all resources and wealth that Lincoln appeared to want. And this mischaracterization simply points up yet again how very little libertarians, conservatives, capitalist bulldogs understand about Marxism.

For example, while it may be true that these particular Marxists the book likely cherry-picked were of the pro-fascism ilk, most of the Marxist critics, democratic-socialists, anarcho-socialists I’m aware of from the same time period would have been appalled at the kind of federalized control of commerce and wealth Lincoln was moving toward, and most especially the idea of waging war to secure that wealth and resources for federalized control. It was Marx and Engles who, before and during the very years of the American Civil War, were in Germany writing about how capitalism was the corrupt foundation upon which unjust, unnecessary, violent, wars just like the Civil War are based upon. They decried the very basis of wealth and resource and labor-exploiting economy that fueled Lincoln’s alleged desire to federalize and command.

Socialist activists like Max Eastman, John Reed, Emma Goldman, fought and were imprisoned for their views on wealth-inspired wars and their anti-war activism… In the 20s. Early anarchists like Bakunin (sp?) fought for anti-federalism (anti-governments in general) and were also socialists and believers in Marxist criticism. Marxist critics like Max Weber and Erich (sp?) Fromm (who identified as a libertarian socialist) were staunchly anti-war and anti-centralized power based on accumulation of wealth and resources! Modern libertarianism owes it’s existance to the early Marxists and scads of anarcho-socialists and libertarian socialists!

But nearly every current (American) self-proclaimed libertarian I know, knows nothing of their movement’s history, knows nothing about the various forms of socialism, erronously groups all socialists as Stalinists, and has no understanding whatsoever of Marxism. And sadly, they tend to have no interest at all in even acknowledging any differences. The differences, for one example, between a Soviet communist and an anarcho-socialist are as stark as night and day. But, when I try to even point this up, I’m usually met with a wall of righteous dismissal and the evident desire to remain ignorant as additional information would simply complicate their black-and-white ideological blanket hatred.

Hmm, OK, this will do nothing to improve the graces of my libertarian friends. Chances are, this may be the end of friendships. 😛

Back to the Lincoln review/book: their anti-Marxist diatribes aside, their critique of Lincoln seems to make complete sense given the evidence. We live in a nation where the federalist North won, and the winners get to write history (and craft the general cultural message of why they won and what it was all about in the first place).

Now, don’t misunderstand me, and no offense meant (…OK, maybe a little offense, sorry…) I’m not only not a Southerner but I really don’t in general like the South. Besides their past hanging on to abhorrant slavery (which, again, had little to actually do with the war and the North was for a long time also a supporter of and a longer time a beneficiary of), I hate their current general racism, scientific ignorance, mysoginistic bigotry, religious zealotry, and food. (*sigh* OK, a lot of offense. Sorry.) In general, stereotyped broad strokes.

But even before I knew the word libertarianism, or the concept of anarcho-socialism, I believed in the message of the Declaration of Independence that stressed that any people have the right to rid itself of government it finds intrusive, abusive, overly controlling, domineering, and counter to the peoples’ desires for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And the 10th Amendment that states that all rights not expressly dictated by the Constitution fall to the states and to the people. I believe that includes the right to secede from the union should the constitutional, federal government grossly overstep its rights and bounds and violate the limits of the Constitution and the spirit of the Declaration of Independence. (Did I get you libertarians back?)

Science is real.

They Might Be Giants - Science Is Real
They Might Be Giants - Science Is Real

A few days ago, Rebecca over at Skepchicks posted a post featuring some videos of songs from They Might Be Giant’s new album: Here Comes Science. It’s a kid’s album (that can be thoroughly enjoyed by adults!) extolling the many and varied benefits of science.

The first YouTube video she posted is for the album’s opening song: “Science is Real”. My initial feeling is of delight as I’ve always loved They Might Be Giants, and their wonderful nerdiness. I love that they want to pass their own love for science on to kids. While all the songs on the album appear to be fun tunes about some aspect of science, upon giving the opening song, “Science is Real,” a second thought, I find it extremely sad that they have to actually put a song on the album that has to purport the reality of science. That we live in a culture that has to constantly be explained to that science is reality. It’s very depressing.

Reminds of how I found out, just today, that there’s a compelling and critically better-than-average film being released this month that dramatizes a bit of Charles Darwin’s life, his marriage, his family, at the time of his writing On the Origin of Species. It has big name actors, and is a major film, not an indie flick (nothing wrong with indie flicks! But there’s a point here…), but no one in the U.S. wants to distribute it to theaters here. Because of the “controversial nature” of Darwin and evolution. (::face palm::)

Here’s a movie that’s all set to be released and enjoyed around the world, but here in this “modern” country where we just barely beat Turkey and have a ways to go before we reach Latvia for the number of people to accept the reality of evolution, we can’t see it because the subject is Charles Darwin. It’s not even a documentary, it’s not made to be “challenging” or controversial, it’s not written or filmed to be a polemic…it’s just a drama about a famous man and his personal life during the time he did something to make him famous. But Ooohh NOooo! It has to do with an aspect of science which has stood the test of time and testing for 150+ years, but the conservative evangelicals in our country have such a loud, strident, and pernicious voice (which has made us a laughing-stock for the rest of the world that’s not controlled by an Islamic regime) that film distributors are leery of releasing an otherwise completely non-controversial film here.


*sigh* Time to go back and watch some of those light-hearted, fun, toe-tapping songs by They Might Be Giants and get myself back in a good mood.

Beatles Rock Band; early reaction.

Beatles Rock BandWe got the Beatles Rock Band game last night and played it for a couple of hours; here’re my initial reactions: I’m underwhelmed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it’s a very well-made game. It’s beautiful to look at and they made some improvements over Rock Band 2, including vocal pitch selector and melody or harmony choices! Although, I’m not sure I’m liking the softer, washed-out colors of the scrolling grids and buttons. It muddles the field and makes it harder to see what’s coming, and keep an eye on your bandmate.

The disappointing aspect is the music itself. Now, I’ve been a HUGE Beatles fan since Jr. High. Given the choice of listening to the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, or Elvis–the Beatles without hesitation. But, let’s face it, their music is not exactly complex and challenging. In fact, their first half of their career up to and including most of Rubber Soul, they’re the Ramones of pop music: all you ever need is just 3 chords.

They started experimenting and branching out with Sgt. Pepper, and had a lot of diversity in the White Album (my general favorite), but the music is still relatively simple with a few exceptions. (Like, Abbey Road’s “I Want You/(She’s So Heavy)”. The last third of that song is heart gripping and amazing, although very repetitive.)

Now, I should note I’m coming at this from the point of view of the guitar. Lyrically the songs can be challenging, and I don’t know about the drums. But let’s face it, Ringo was no Neal Pert. I play Rock Band and the Guitar Heroes exclusively on medium, and that’s been getting a little boring–but that 5th fret on hard is a real challenge for me. Still, medium in Rock Band 2 does still provide me with some entertainment. But medium in the Beatles is like the easy setting. If it weren’t for the fact I enjoy the music and find the animation interesting, I’m not sure I’d bother playing (and truth be told, I kinda hate pre-Rubber Soul Beatles). I feel I’m being forced to play on hard if I want challenge… which is not a bad thing since it IS a game. We’ll see how much hard setting adds challenge, whether it eliminates the fun in place with controller-throwing frustration. (I’m looking at YOU Castlevania for SNES!)

We, my wife and I with daughter guest appearing for a bit, played only on Quick Play, we haven’t played Story Mode yet, which I’m really looking forward to in hopes of unlocking some exciting songs. I’m hoping “Norwegian Wood” and “A Day in the Life” are in there. But, I’m leery. I understand you can’t move to the next chapter of the game until you play EVERY song in the current chapter. No options for skipping any you just don’t like. Also, one of the fun things about Rock Band is being able to create characters and outfit them–none of that with the Beatles.

So far the game doesn’t look worth $55+. I’d say maybe $35, $40 tops. But I tell you what: if they ever come out with a Rock Band: Pink Floyd, I’m buying two copies–one to play, and one to take into the warm embrace of my arms and do things with that most religions outside southern California would hate.

Normalcy of the future.

Bruce Sterling is a favorite scifi author of mine. Granted, his CRYPTONOMICON had some serious storytelling flaws, it was still brilliant. And SNOW CRASH is classic. I still need to read ANATHEM….

Anyway, he writes SF so brilliantly because he understands the notion that for the future, or alternate-tech, to be believable, it needs to be acceptable, normal to those who live in it. Here’s a very brief but wonderfully rich article where he discusses the nascent science (and thus SF) concepts that are gee-whiz-bang! now, and how they will look when they’re part of the culture:

Ode to the English Teacher.

First an annoying introduction; feel free to skip to the next heading:

I, unlike pretty much every other English grad student I know/have known, am not an English teacher. Not for high school, nor did I teach undergrads while earning my English MA. Chances are pretty certain, though, that when I go for my PhD or MFA I will have to endure the joys of teaching highschoolers or their very slightly more mature undergrad versions.

It’s not that I dislike the idea of teaching, I love the idea. But two, no, three things scare and frustrate the yellow paint off my pencils: One is that I’m afeared of the younger-than-25 crowd. And that ties directly into my second reason: I’m afeared about my own lack of classroom control ability. If you know me, you know that in person I’m more than a little bumbling, somewhat awkward, I stutter and mumble and have a very difficult time finding the words I want to say and especially stringing them together in coherent and understandable sentences. I’d (am gonna) get run right over the top of and lose all appearance of someone worth listening to, much less someone to give respect to. And they smell fear!

Thirdly, also tied into the previous two, is politics and mandated curriculum frustrates me. The politics of the public school system and college system would probably make me cringe and fill me with rebellious discord. I don’t like the idea of having to teach a class in the classical teacher-is-god/students-are-submissive-statues dynamic. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a Montessori fan where the student basically does whatever they want and learning is expected to find the student. But… you know, I’m getting away from my original intent for this post.

I have a great deal of respect for good teachers. I have nothing but ire and derision for bad teachers. Both are because teachers have a great deal of influence over students and can significantly impact their lives, for the better or worse. I had one teacher in jr. high who inspired me and made me want to learn and grow and I’ll never forget her. I had a teacher in high school who embarrassed and shamed me in front of others and I will hold a place of irrational hatred for him for all my years. Because of the great power teachers have over students during their formative years, I absolutely believe bad teachers should be gotten rid of with speed and prejudice, and good teachers should be made into wealthy celebrities. All the crap they have to put up with from bad students, parents, politicians, it’s amazing we have any good teachers in the system.

Now for the main event:

Author Pat Conroy recently wrote an editorial in response to some attempts at book banning at a high school. What he had to say about the value of teaching, English teachers in particular, and books, I simply can’t improve upon and agree with every word.

So, I urge you to click the following link and read this short essay. See if you can recall your English teachers and what life lessons you may have learned from them.

Adventures in SciFi Publishing returns!

adventuresinscifipublishing-com Picture 1Hey all, just a quick note to report that one of the podcasts I consistently listen to, “Adventures in SciFi Publishing,” is back in production!

They took an extended hiatus earlier this year, but it looks like things are back in order and they already have two new episodes out.

AISFP has had some great interviews and discusses the publishing industry (particularly, obviously, as it relates to the amorphous SF genre). Their first episode back has an interesting interview with first time published author and already Nebula Award nominee, Greg Van Eekhout, author of Norse Code.

Head over to “Adventures in SciFi Publishing” by going to this link: AISFP – 78

Enjoy! 🙂

Would we resort to that?

Here’s a question I’d love to get some feedback here, or where it gets cross-posted to Facebook and Twitter:

Let’s say it’s a post-apocalypse situation where whatever happened caused crops to stop growing and all herbivores (i.e.: the animals we farm and eat) to die off, like in the years leading up to Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD. Good ole red blooded middle-class Americans are dying from starvation by the millions. Given the mercenary survival instinct of corporations, and the natural survival instinct of humans in general, and our likely desire to not lose as much of our Way Of Life as possible…

Would we knowingly and willingly allow corporate run cannibalism to keep ourselves and our society as we know it running, if it allowed The West from turning into a THE ROAD or MAD MAX style desolation?

What do you think?

(It’s been 20 years since I’ve seen SOYLET GREEN and I’ve not read the book, but the main difference here is in that book/movie the populace didn’t know what the govt/corporations were doing. I’m interested in opinions regarding a willing populace.)

Watchmen; better for the geek failure.

First, I have to say that now that the semester’s over, I’m going to need to start blogging more to clear out my backlog of topics. I can’t use my work PC for anything non-work related, so every once in a while I check my collection of RSS feeds on my iPhone and Instapaper it for latter blogging. Maybe if I do 3 to 5 a day I can get through them in a month. 🙂

Last meta topic: Facebook readers: this post came from my official blog; the auto-transfer to FB tends to strip any embedded images.)

watchmen-ozymandiasI finally got to see Watchmen at a 2nd run theater this weekend. (Just to get that out of the way: the sound was meh. Mediocre quality and an audio channel or two would cut out now and then. If possible, always see highly visual/auditory movies in a good theater. But, $2 to see a film in a theater isn’t a bad thing either!) And my general reaction: A-frakkin-mazing! I was totally blown away! I even had chills watching the incredible opening credits.

Chances are most people reading this will have already seen Watchmen or have decided not to. Instead of an in-depth review of the movie itself, I want to express some of my personal background and reaction to it. Hey, it’s a personal blog, after all–not a news ‘zine. 🙂

I was aware of the Watchmen comics when they first came out in the 80s, but I never read them. The covers were compelling, and even though I didn’t have comic book fan friends, I was still aware of some kind of buzz surrounding these comics. But, I never got into comics at all, really, despite my really wanting to. Once, as a kid, I had gotten a copy of Ghost Rider, and it has some action which was cool…but what it mostly has was a confusing plot that depended upon previous issues of the comic in order to understand what was going on. And that very early experience with comic books prevented me from ever really picking them up as I realized some of these comics had been going on for years! How could I possibly get involved in X-Men or Teen Titans much less any of the Super- or Bat- characters if I’d be lost without the years of backstory?

It doesn’t help that I didn’t have any comic book-loving friends (even though we were definitely geeks–we played D&D pretty much every weekend and rode our bikes to see every scifi and fantasy movie we were allowed to go to), nor any comic book shops nearby. Well, not that I knew of. I mostly grew up in suburbs of Denver, yet the only hobby store I knew of was a train and model store I’d get my model rocket parts from. I always got my D&D stuff from Waldenbooks. So…I was never given any advice in how to get into comic books in the middles. In high school I used to walk to my mom’s work after school, stopping by 7-Eleven, and I started getting The ‘Nam and Groo from the beginning, but I always saw them as pale substitutions for real comic books. (Mmm, that was also the beginning of my love for chili picante Corn Nuts!)

watchmen_rorschach1Ironically, I didn’t get into Watchmen for that reason despite the fact it was a finite story that was published over a year or two. Once I was older and realized it was a limited story, the excitement of Watchmen had turned into legend and reverence and the comics were re-issued and collections were published. I could have gotten into it then. But something else turned me off: the artwork. In my opinion, it was and still is pretty horrendous. It reminded me of Sunday comic pages. I understood by that time that Watchmen was unlike anything that had come out before. There was something about it that elevated the comic book to literature status: it was mature, it was deep, it deconstructed the super hero, it was revolutionary. But still, every time I was reminded of it and I told myself “I’m not worthy of geek status until I read Watchmen, I would look at the old style inking and terrible coloring, and couldn’t bring myself to actually read it.

And now I’m glad! Because I think the movie freakin’ blew me away exactly because of this specific condition I find myself in. For more than 25 years I knew of the cult status of Watchmen so when the trailers for the movie started coming out, I could join in the excitement of it. (And even if I knew nothing of the history and legend of Watchmen, the trailers were freakin hawsome! I got chills the first time and the 20th time I’d watch the trailers.) But since I had no early impressioned love of the content of the comic books, I could enjoy what the movie did without expectations or criticism for not sticking to the script, adding something, or leaving something out. I could enjoy the movie for what it was.

But then, I’m pretty forgiving when it comes to movie adaptations. I’m very aware of how impossible it is to translate a book to film and not have to change things in order to make a coherent and enjoyable movie. For example, I love the original Dune novel, every time I read it I get something completely new from it–it is so amazingly rich and deep. But I liked David Lynch’s movie just fine, enjoyable on its own terms, as it’s impossible to film that book. Likewise Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings was probably the best that could possibly be done and capture the themes of the novel(s) and still make a movie that would make sense, and be enjoyable. I thank goodness there was no Tom Bombadil in the film!

Since seeing Watchmen, I’ve tried to find scans of the original comic book online so I could see what the differences in dialogue may be, and honestly, from what I’ve seen, I think the movie did a better job. Some of the dialogue in the movie was a little stilted or odd sounding. Not much, though. But while most of it was word-for-word from the comic book, the movie would eliminate some dialogue that was in the original that was even worse. Almost ridiculous. From my limited experience, I think the film-makers did an amazing job keeping the best of the original. And I like the little details. For example, I noticed in the film when Rorschach was in the prison interview room, his had both hands on the table, as if he may have been required to do so, or he was ready to strike out if need be. I later saw, in that image from the original above, that you can just see his hands flat on the table.

Watchmen was an absolutely amazing film, whether you’re into super heroes or not. It was pretty violent and gross in places, but not too bad. (All the violence in this movie doesn’t even come close to the horrific two instances of violence in the French drama, Irréversible, but that really is for another blog post.) I really need to see it a couple more times before it leaves the theater. Am I getting the DVD? Hellsyeah!

Cory Doctorow puts the Singularity into perspective.

An interview recently released (but recorded a year ago) with writer and technoculture critic Cory Doctorow, on Reality Break podcast, has what I think is a brilliant observation about the subjectivity of contemporary issues and the concept of “the Singularity” specifically:

Science fiction is about reflecting the present not the future, so, all science fiction writers predect the present and that means they write in the style and the form of the day. And you know I think the “Singularity” right now reflects a sort of social anxiety about technical people who are slipping. You know, it’s kind of like an après moi le déluge. You know, “once Vernor Vinge can’t keep up with technological progress, technical progress will no longer be keep-upable with.” And I think there’s something to that, I think there’s this feeling that when you transition from being a bright young turk to grumpy old fart that what’s changed is the world and not you, and that the world has changed in a way that is truly wrong. My friend Jim Griffon says that “If it’s been invented before you were eighteen then you assume it’s always been there, if it’s invented before you’re thirty you assume it’s the best thing ever made, if it’s invented after you’re thirty you assume that it should be illegal.”

(He also has some great discussion on why social networking software is so addictive and how absurd end user license agreements (EULAs) are by forcing us to assume a contract by our behavior–for example, those rediculous stickers on software CD envelopes (or the notices sometimes inside the envelope) that state “by opening this envelope you agree to….”)

Anyway, I find this comment about the nostalgia for the past and the fear of the future intriguing since I’ve been spending a lot of time the last year researching the “death of science fiction” (or rather, its absorption into all genre) and having spent many brain cycles on this concept of the Singularity. It’s an idea put forward by author and scientist Vinge that posthuman technology is advancing in such a way that when humans today would be incapable to perceiving or understanding the “human” of the future, humanity will have passed through the Singularity and modern human history will be at an end. This event could be when artificial intelligence has overtaken homo-sapien and we have been relegated to a “lesser” species, or when homo-sapiens have fundamentally changed via genetic manipulation and cyber enhancement.

It’s an idea that’s gaining a lot of ground both in sf and in technoculture–but one has to wonder, does putting such a connotatively fatal demarcation seperating the two not imply fear of the advancement?

“Year Zero” may become a series.

I’m a huge Nine Inch Nails fan. I think Trent Reznor is a brilliant musician and a savvy marketer and electronic music guru. From Nine Inch Nails one can draw lines of influence to bands and performers like Filter and Tweaker and Marilyn Manson (as Reznor had something more than a minor direct influence on each of them). His mixture of sonic dissonance and noise with sublime melody and often poetically emotional lyrics and a powerful and compelling voice… amazing.

Anyway, a couple of years ago he released a concept album (previewed online for free and setting the stage for the appropriately modern and technology aware marketing of the later Ghosts albums) entitled Year Zero which looks at a world several years in the future should the current neo-con trends in politics continue. Politically charged without being so pedestrian as to refer to any actual people or events and thus forever dating itself, the message of the album is clear if subtle, and the music is varied and strong.

But one of the best things about the album was its marketing. Its release was preceded by alternate reality game type elements including Web sites which extend the story of the album, “lost” USB keys with music found in various venues, etc. I love ARGs and what they’re capable of (although fascinating, the Year Zero ARG wasn’t very huge or intricate like Halo 2’s “I Love Bees” and A.I.‘s “Beast” games).

Anyway, all that said, a limited length series based on the story of Year Zero may be in the works!