Thursday, January 29, 2015

Random Thoughts

So, for one reason or another I haven't blogged much lately. In order to maintain the illusion that I actually have a blog, here are a few semi-random thoughts (I keep a word document open and jot them down as they come):

-Is it really necessary for companies to reiterate that they don’t discriminate based on sex, race, etc? I mean, it’s illegal to discriminate that way, right? Doesn’t self-identifying as an equal opportunity employer just amount to “We do not openly flaunt a law that’s been in place for half-a-century”? I suppose you could also say “we do not engage in insider stock-trading, money laundering, fraud, or slave-trading.”   

-We sometimes hear from our intellectual betters that such and such a crime is the fault of 'society.' Well, in the first place, "Society" only means "Other People," so saying that a given crime is 'society's fault' is only a more sophisticated way of saying that it's someone else's fault. In some cases that may even be true, but it's hardly nuanced.

-In the second place, for a crime to be society's fault, in the sense that the criminal himself carries no blame for it, that would require that we have no free will, but be completely guided by social influences. But, if that's true, than none of our actions have any moral character at all, and hence there is no such thing as 'fault' to begin with. So, either crime is the fault of the criminal who commits it, or there is no such thing as 'fault' at all. In any case, blaming 'society' is disingenuous.  

-People like to say that taxation is theft. It's not, though; Taxation means paying for the goods and services which the government provides, such as a common currency, law-enforcement, the military, infrastructure, and so on. The problem comes when taxes are charged for things that fall outside the scope of a government's duties, or when the government overcharges for the services provided. If you hire a plumber to fix your sink, you don't want him to try to tune the piano while he's there, especially not if it's going to double your bill and certainly not if he's completely tone-deaf.

-Modern Liberalism is basically the act of blowing out a candle and then cursing the darkness. When someone suggests that they shouldn’t have blown out the damn candle, the liberals answer that candles are evil, since each person can create their own light. Point out that no, they can’t, and they’ll say they would be able to if only people like you weren’t holding them back.

-There are always alternatives to violence. The difficult part is getting both sides to agree on which alternative to use, especially when the options include things like “stand still and let me kill you” or “shut up and do as I say.”

-The phrase “I find that offensive” has almost no meaning whatsoever in a world where some people find The Chicago Manual of Style to be personally offensive.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Oscar Ramblings

Academy Award Nominations are out! And they look even lamer than last year’s.
Not that I expected any better, of course. Hollywood these days seems, by and large, to resent the fact that it has to cater to us unwashed, small-minded Neanderthals in Middle America. Which, oddly enough, are the exact words we like to use to describe them. Funny how that works out.

Here are the Best Picture Nominees:
"American Sniper"
"The Grand Budapest Hotel"
"The Imitation Game"
"The Theory of Everything"

Hands up: who has seen any one of those?

I admit, most of the nominees are films I’ve either never heard of or only have vague notions of. For instance, I seem to remember hearing positive things about Birdman, but I have no idea why it seems to have captured the hearts of the Academy, though that makes me suspicious. And thus I realize that we’ve reached the point where an Academy Award nomination actually makes me doubt a film’s quality. That’s a new low.
The rule seems to be that any film that deals with racial issues or homosexuality (in completely standard, approved, and unquestioning ways, of course) are automatic nominees. Then there has to be at least one strange, off-beat picture (two this time: Birdman and The Grand Budapest Hotel, if I understand them correctly), and preferably a piece about the War on Terror. Feminist tales and anti-Christian pieces are also popular.
Note that these films and the runners-up can also be used to provide the acting and directing categories. If there’s a really notable performance that year, you can throw it in, preferably under ‘Supporting Actor,’ but you should try not to.
If it is at all possible, be sure to keep any movie that was in any way popular with audiences off the list. The peons need to know their place and can’t be allowed to get the idea that the entertainment industry exists to serve them. No, no; your purpose is to instruct, and so the Awards should go to whatever film has the best lesson for the little swine.

Back in the day, the Film Industry knew that it was entertainment; minstrels, basically, or jesters or, at best, the court artisan serving the public. It hadn’t yet learned to resent the fact that it was expected to make movies that audiences enjoyed. Before any of you snobs or wannabes jump in, that doesn’t mean ‘light and frothy popcorn pictures.’ It means what it means: movies are entertainment first, art if they’re very good entertainment. Back then, a romantic comedy filled with witty, yet slightly rambling dialogue like It Happened One Night could sweep all four top categories. Or you could have a zany comedy like You Can’t Take It With You walk away with Best Picture, or a gigantic spectacular production like Ben Hur, or an intimate religious drama like A Man for All Seasons. The Academy rewarded films that were good as films, not because they were the ‘right kind’ of ilms
There’s still some of that left; the Academy can only give the one-fingered salute to its audience so many years in a row before people stop watching. So, occasionally, a worthy film like The Lord of the Rings or The King’s Speech will walk away with Best Picture. Or a truly mesmerizing performance will force their hand, and Heath Ledger will earn a posthumous nod, even though he was in a retched comic-book movie which audiences actually liked (honestly, and this may sound kind of mean, but I think that if it hadn’t been for his sudden death he probably wouldn’t have won. It would have been another Sigourney Weaver in Aliens situation: “Well, we can’t ignore him, but…” To be clear, that’s an indictment of the Academy, not Ledger’s performance). 
Anyway, moving down this year's list, I was disappointed that Godzilla didn’t get any nominations: I would have pegged it for  special effects, cinematography, and, especially, sound (as far as I’m concerned, there is no way that it shouldn’t have been nominated for Sound Design, just for the updated roar alone. Honestly, I think the technical awards are just distributed by Academy members quickly scanning a list of big-budget films that came out the past year and drawing their names out of a hat).
                More importantly, the fact that The Lego Movie wasn’t nominated for Best Animated Film is nothing short of a crime. Especially since they had to then fill in the gaps with Song of the Sea (huh?) and The Tale of Princess Kaguya (…you made that one up!), not to mention the from-what-I-can-tell mediocre How to Train Your Dragon 2 and the lame The Boxtrolls. My only guess is that the live-action sections disqualified it, in which case…oh, screw you, Academy! Anyway, Big Hero Six had better win or else…well, since you have no credibility left, you’ll sink even further into Minus Land and sooner or later the Gnoolies will get you. So there.
Update: “Fury over the fact that all Oscar nominees are white.” Some people are apparently getting upset over the fact that all the acting nominees this year are white.  
My response: That’s your takeaway!? Not “who even saw these movies, and does anyone give a damn about any of them?”
Okay, first of all, grow the hell up, people! Most of us got over throwing tantrums when we weren’t always included in everything by the time we graduated from kindergarten.
Second, the Oscars are, ostensibly at least, awards for ‘outstanding achievement in different categories of filmmaking.’ Personally (and leaving aside the question of the merits of this year’s nominees), I think giving any award or even a nomination for any consideration other than what you judge to be someone’s actual merit is dishonest, despicable, and grounds for your immediate dismissal from position of judge. Please note that when you throw a fit because the Academy apparently didn’t take anyone’s ethnicity into account in forming their list of nominees, you are in fact getting upset because they did the right thing.
Third, considering that the first Black nominee to win was Hattie McDaniel in 1939, I think we can safely say the period of racial discrimination in the Academy is past.
Fourth, if having an all-white slate of nominees is so rare that you’re making an issue of it (apparently, the last time it happened was two decades ago), it’s probably a sign you shouldn’t be making an issue of it.
And fifth, this is perhaps the lamest line up the Academy has had in years, which is saying a lot. Do you really want to be part of that?

Real Update: The above rant has been diminished by the fact that, since writing it, American Sniper received a wide release, became a big hit, and received a lot of posivitive acclaim from honestly-reasonable sounding sources (the fact that the premier opened with a prayer is also a good sign). So, it looks like we might actually have a decent and popular film up for Best Picture this year. Woo hoo.

Friday, December 19, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol. 48

Again hosted by This Ain't the Lyceum.

Since my life this week has mostly amounted to work, Christmas shopping, and worrying about Christmas shopping, I decided to do something different this week. I brainstormed a few potential opening lines for stories and thought I'd share them with you. Enjoy!

1.               It had been centuries since any man had seen the sun.

2.               It all started one morning when I woke up to find a giant snake in my bed.
      “Wake up,” it ordered. “We have a lot of work to do.”
3.               “Now before you start, like me just say that it seemed like a good idea at the time.”
                  Laz couldn’t remember how many times Jeb had said those exact words just after getting them both killed. The sad thing was that this time it really had.
4                 The Myers House had stood empty for nearly twenty years. Or rather, it had not been lived in for that long. Whether it had ever been empty was doubtful.

5.                 Jill awoke in the middle of a darkened room. The only light was a harsh, single bulb hanging overhead, casting a small cone of light about her and revealing nothing of her surroundings. Her wrists, elbows, ankles, knees, and chest were tightly bound to a straight-backed metal chair, and her mouth had been sealed with duct-tape.
                  So far, so good, she thought.

6.                 Recent evidence has indicated that, of all the people you might pass on any given night, one out of every thousand isn’t actually there. In less populated areas, the rate might rise to one in every hundred.

7.                 Prof. Julius F. Krupt was a legend in the field of Applied Demonology, known just as much for his biting, sarcastic wit as for his terrifying work on new forms of ritual blood-sacrifice.

Friday, December 12, 2014

7 Quick Takes vol. 47

Hosted by This Ain't the Lyceum

1. Since I'm tired and cranky, this week's 7 Quick Takes are going to be even quicker than normal, consisting mostly of wry comments that have occurred to me over the week and which I subsequently wrote down.

2. I hate those vocal phone menus. You know the thing: Creepily Cheerful Computer Voice: "Hello! Welcom to ATT! Please state what you are calling about...I'm sorry. I did not understand that. Please state what you are calling about."
Apparently, the idea is "Let's make sure the caller is as irritated and angry as possible before we let him talk with our staff."

3. Mulicultural demonstrations (i.e. those stupid 'long list of holidays' greetings) only say that you personally couldn't care less about any of these religions and would prefer if no one else did either. It's vapidity with a smile.

4. Nowadays when someone identifies as a 'non-conformist' they usually mean "I would have been a non-conformist if I had lived four or five decades ago."

5. Ever hear the injunction "comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable"? I suppose that after you've done that, you'd logically then have to comfort the afflicted who used to be comfortable and afflict the comfortable who used to be afflicted. It seems to me we could skip a step.

6. Since everyone's commenting on the new Star Wars trailer, here's my summary: The girl on the awkward speeder-thing is really cute, I think that 'cross-beam lightsaber' is cool (lightsabers were never a practical weapon, people; just roll with it), and whatever else it can't possibly be worse than the prequels. In sum, looks like it could be good.
       Aside: is it weird that I now think of Mark Hamill primarily as the voice of the Joker rather than as Luke Skywalker? As in "Oh, yeah; the guy who voiced the Joker was also in Star Wars."

7.  Quote of the Week:
(the other characters are rebuking Lee for resorting to violence)
Bill: “I see your point, but may I remind you that I’M BRUCE F***ING LEE!?”
-Rifftrax: Fists of Fury

Thursday, December 11, 2014

TCM Remembers

I always love TCM's in memoriam films, and this year's especially good.

Lots of great performers passed this year.

Friday, December 5, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol. 46

1.     Whew! Lot happened in the last couple weeks. Went down to Florida with the family to attend a friend’s wedding. It was a very long trip, but a lot of fun (the drive was broken up by visits to my aunt in Atlanta), and the first time my immediate family has all been together in the same place for several years. Also, my 3 year old niece completely dominated the dance floor at the reception and didn’t quit until sometime after I’d gone to bed (I’m not really the dancing type). She needed a couple days to recover from her several hours of non-stop dancing (no, seriously; that’s not an exaggeration).

2.     For the ride home I brought my audio copy of Hard Magic to listen to in the car. My parents seem to have enjoyed it, though perhaps not as much as I’d hoped they would. My mom in particular was a little put off by the violence and language (I didn’t have the heart to tell her that this was actually the less gory of the two series I’ve read by Correia. Guy likes his blood). But on the whole, it was a success.

3.     On the subject of violence, the gore in Correia’s books always struck me as being less disturbing than the violence in, say, the Odd Thomas series. There’s more of it, but it’s played with a lighter touch so I don’t find it as cringe-inducing. Maybe it’s because of the surrounding context (pulpy adventure story vs. spiritually-aware horror-comedy), or because there’s kind of a boyishly gleeful tone in Correia that would be inappropriate in Koontz. Cheerfully over-the-top is more palatable than deliberately horrifying, even when the former has more actual violence than the latter (see also: Evil Dead 2). So, a gun-fight involving dozens of people who then turn into horrifically shambling zombies is less stomach-churning than killing two or three people. It all depends on what tone you’re aiming for.

4.     Well, I did it; I made 52,000 words before the end of November. Go me! The book is still nowhere near finished, unfortunately (I’m a little hazy on how the whole middle section should play out), but at least I made the word count. My plan is to work on it some more this weekend and then maybe start posting either next Friday or the following one. If nothing else, that should motivate me to keep working at it.

5.     Last night was Rifftrax Live: Santa Claus. Santa Claus is a Mexican Christmas film that they’d previously riffed on MST3k (though using a heavily-edited copy). It tells the story of how Santa delivers presents to all the good boys and girls of the world (read: maybe four or five houses in Mexico City) while engaging in a battle of wits with Lucifer’s right-hand devil, Pitch, who intends to foil Santa’s gift-giving so that he (Pitch) can rule the world. Santa is aided by the magical items given him by Merlin the wizard and the god Vulcan and by the quick-thinking of his young second-in-command, Pedro, who monitors his journey from Santa’s crystal palace floating in space above the North Pole. Meanwhile, poor little Lupita desperately wants a doll of her very own and engages in a struggle for her soul against the temptations of Pitch, who tries to get her to steal a doll instead of waiting for Santa to bring her one.
I did not make any of that up; it’s all actually in the film. And I didn’t even mention the three bad little boys who plot to kidnap Santa and make him their slave, or the fact that Santa’s sleigh and reindeer is a giant wind-up toy that laughs evilly when he starts it, or that instead of elves Santa employs children representing a dozen different nationalities to labor in his sweatshop, or the nightmare sequence involving giant, dancing, two-faced dolls, or…well, you get the idea. The movie is ridiculously bizarre, and would be pretty hilarious even without Mike, Kevin, and Bill, but they pretty much knocked the riffing out of the park. The sequence of Santa taking off had me gasping. Then there was “Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Paradise Lost” and “Did Daddy really expect to find work at 4 AM on Christmas morning?” and “Meanwhile, the other demons are causing a terrible famine in Africa.” So, yeah; it was a painfully hilarious experience.

6.     A Thought: There has been, to my knowledge, one non-isolated society in history (Okinawa) that voluntarily disarmed. The result was first that it was annexed by two empires at the same time and second that it developed one of the most effective styles of hand-to-hand combat in history.
                  The moral: If you beat your sword in a ploughshare, sooner or later you’ll have to learn to fight with plowshares. 

7.     Concluding Quote:
(as the main character explains how all the information he’s telling the audience can be found at the library)
Mike: “Most of these shorts should just be titled ‘Go Get a Book.’”
-Rifftrax: Get that Job

Friday, November 21, 2014

7 Quick Takes Vol. 45

Today hosted by This Ain't the Lyceum

1.     The fact that most friend and family blogs have been all-but silent lately has made me feel better about my own lack of blogging discipline. Alas; my friend E.G. Norton (a very intelligent and talented writer whom you should totally check out) has zombified her blog and started writing again, which means I can’t hide behind peer pressure any longer. Okay, that actually had nothing to do with my actually having posts lately, but it was a chance to give her a shout-out.

2.     Anyway, I’m feeling much better this week than I was last week. This may not be unrelated to the fact that I’ve started a 54 day Rosary novena. It’s really wonderful how that soothes the soul and calms the mind.

3.     This week I watched The Tale of Despereaux on Netflix. It was really surprisingly bad. I love the premise, and there are a lot of good ideas in it, but the script kind of sucks: the story doesn’t flow well, key character decisions have no discernable motivation, relationships are given no real weight or set-up, some characters show up, have no impact on the story whatsoever, and then drop out, and the timeline of the climax makes no sense: one series of events seems to take, at most, a couple minutes, while a parallel series must take more like a half hour at minimum. And then there’s the fact that the titular hero really has very little impact on his own story: most of the plot is moved along by the rat, Roscuro, who is both a more active and more engaging character (and probably has more screen time).  A more accurate title would have been The Tale of Roscuro, in which Despereaux Played Some  Part that we Haven’t Quite Figured Out Yet. It’s sad, because I really wanted to like the movie and expected to like it: a swashbuckling mouse who strives to live the ideals of chivalry is a really great idea! It was the execution that fell almost completely flat. It made me interested in reading the book, because I can’t imagine the book was this heavily flawed.
Final Rating: 2/5 (and believe me, that hurts me more than you).

4.     Writing away at my Nanowrimo book: I’m up to 32,000+ words now, and am making plans to spend an unhealthy amount of time writing this weekend. The trouble is, I’ve still got one or two major plot hurdles to get over before the end, which I haven’t quite come up with a strategy for. Basically…well, I need to have my hero learn something that I’m specifically setting up that no one could possibly know, and give him a reason to do something of which there is no immediately apparent need, and which will lead to complications, but not make it look like the hero’s fault. Okay, never mind all that. The point is, it’s moving fairly well.

5.     Earlier this week I was reading an article discussing the works of H.P. Lovecraft and, well, my brain started working (as it sometimes does) on the composition of the name and produced a whole series of ‘Lovecraft’ jokes. My favorite of which ended up on my Facebook page today:

Blizzard Entertainment presents "World of Lovecraft."
Most unfortunately, it has nothing to do with either the author or his works.
It's also been banned in 32 different countries.
6.     It’s about this point that I start to run out of 7 Quick Take ideas. I’m a fairly private person, so I discard most potential subjects about my own life. That, and most of the time I don’t really have much to say about them. But saying that has gotten me to my ending quote! So hah!

7.     Quote of the Week:
“All human wisdom is contained in these two words: ‘Wait and Hope’”
-Alexander Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo

/Craft -> Love

P.S. I apologize to anyone coming here from This Ain't the Lyceum who saw the 'Crafting Love' subtitle and expected something heartwarming.