Sunday, December 28, 2008
Check out this great and hilarious presentation about the origin of "Chinese Food" in the United States, including an explanation as to who this "General Tso" guy was, anyway.
The presentation doesn't talk about Cuban-Chinese food - it's not commonly known, but Havana's Chinatown was the world's 2nd largest besides San Francisco's. In a lot of Miami Chinese restaurants, you can get your honey chicken with a side of platanos fritos.
Monday, December 15, 2008
Do you believe that the government has the right to tell people who they can or can't marry?
Prop 8's the one thing that harshes my buzz about finally having a President that talks like a grownup adult (that, and the fact the Three Stooges remain in power here in Florida: I guess running Joe Garcia, a charismaless nerd technocrat, wasn't enough). Proposition Eight is an example of the ugly Karl Rove "old" school of politics the American people categorically rejected: divide the electorate with an issue and hope you end up with the bigger piece. Usually, it nearly always involves smearing a minority group (undocumented workers, homos, Ay-rabs).
This actually affects someone close to me personally, because my Mother has a "civil union" with her boyfriend that gives her hospital and visitation rights and allows them to share insurance.
Incidentally, I fully expect a lot of comments that go "Hey, if you're so tolerant, how come you're not tolerant of my intolerance?" Those just crack me up.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
It's a fair bet that half of my High School P.E. class would absolutely say yes.
Alright, now pretend I'm paying you (no joke) $160,000 a year to guard State Department officials - which in practice means opening fire on any Iraqi kid that so much as sneezes in your care. And also, you're from the boonies and don't have a college education.
It's obvious by now that I'm talking about the dumb, mean and incompetent employees of Blackwater. The funny thing is, I'm going to take the Foreign Service exam in a couple months, and I'd much rather be protected by a Blackwater merc than what passes for a Marine (or rather, "Freedom Scout") in the deleusional self-parody America has become. I'll take a mercenary in it for the money over a do-gooder anyday.
I don't blame Blackwater for the murders. While Nuremberg established that it is possible to prosecute a soldier even if they were under orders to kill civilians, so much chaos and carnage happens regularly in Iraq that a show-trial for someone that killed the wrong target is hypocritical and darkly comic.
What does gall me about Blackwater is how they reveals every lie we were taught to swallow when we're growing up: that the way to success is to study hard, be smart, and get good grades. If the current financial crisis is anything to go by, assholes like me that studied hard are going broke, whereas the dumb, mean guys that placed firecrackers up the anus of cats are buying McMansions hand over fist.
It isn't that Blackwater is brutal, it's that they're dumb: how many of them speak Arabic, for instance? This is important because in the modern, asymmetrical school of warfare, tanks and jet fighters and big 'roided out Texans with guns are not as important as intelligence operations. A lot of cracks are made at the expense of someone like James Bond, how he isn't realistic or relevant. Actually, with the importance of asymmetrical warfare strategies, now may be the only time that someone like Bond (a hitman with a brain) is even vaguely relevant.
Iraq is a war for linguistics and social studies, not engineering and metal shop. The failure to predict the ensuing sectarian violence after the fall of Saddam can be traced exclusively to the fact that most pundits just didn't get that there is more than one kind of Muslim, and they're not exactly bursting at the seams with brotherly love for each other. As Bob Woodward remembered in PLAN OF ATTACK, George W. Bush didn't even know - and the folks that did know better were too focused on playing with their Green Army Men and the usual military wargaming than focusing on the basic social facts of the region.
And...not to gloat, but this is something I saw coming. Without a strong central government, Iraq would break down into sectarian violence.
And finally, there's definitely an expiration date on this kind of Blackwater model. I'd say it passed in the fifties, when guerilla warfare came into style worldwide, or even earlier, though you wouldn't hear that from the Pentagon: they're still polishing their shiny new toys like they're going to fight the Wehrmacht and the Japanese Imperial Navy instead of al-Queda.
So maybe nerds get their revenge over the vicious after all.
Monday, December 1, 2008
Lucky Starr is an agent for the Science Council of the Solarian League, accompanied by his sidekick, the 5'2" ironically named Bigman. Some of the gadgets range from the cool (Lucky Starr's identifying science council tattoo is invisible and changes form beneath his skin), influential (the Force-Blade, the inspiration for all the laser-swords in science fiction), to the just-plain weird (Lucky Starr's hopper, a pogo-car as ludicrous as it sounds).
Friday, November 28, 2008
Friday, November 21, 2008
I find it hard to believe that one man could create both the loveable tribbles AND the Chthorr, who are nothing short of the stuff of nightmares.
I suppose at this point I'll have to give a shout-out to my bud Paul Chapman, currently in Tarpon Springs, Florida, who got me into David Gerrold out of Paul's interest in the WAR AGAINST THE CHTHORR novels. Sure, I read THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF before, and I knew who the guy was, but I wasn't a fan of his until the Chthorr books.
THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF is in the category of unusual time travel stories along with Julian May's THE GOLDEN TORC. I've always enjoyed unusual takes on time travel, and this one posits a fascinating idea: eventually a guy travels through time enough to the point where he "folds himself," and multiple variations of himself exist through time.
It's worth noting that THE MAN WHO FOLDED HIMSELF was the direct inspiration for Roger Stern's "resurrection" of Kang the Conqueror (and Immortus). Stern refused to use any of the usual cheeseball techniques for bringing master villains to life, namely robots and clones, and instead borrowed a page from Gerrold: as a result of Kang's time travel escapades, there are dozens of different "variant" Kangs in existence, ruling different branches of the timestream. Thus, Kang really did die in the Old West (or at least that particular variant Kang did).
The CHTORR books have a particularly brainbending and terrifying idea behind them. It is a book series about alien invasion, particularly by formidable worm monsters called Chthorr, but the twist is that the invasion is ecological in nature, an entire biosphere attempting to replace earth life. Chthorr is a world where life is more hostile and lethally progressed evolutionarily speaking, and gradually parts of earth become more like the Chthorr homeworld, including its nasty flora and fauna that outperform our comparatively milder earth life with their toxic, polluting and carnivorous adaptations.
With the Chtorr worms, the question of what qualifies as sentience rears its head, a common science fiction theme also explored in H. Beam Piper's LITTLE FUZZY. One of the worst legacies of science fiction's early years is the tendency to anthropomorphize aliens, particularly in how they think. And, well, not to give any spoilers here, but the Chtorr worms don't think like humans, more like gods. They easily take their role as one of the most fascinating alien races in science fiction, along with Arthur C. Clarke's Overlords, Larry Niven's Puppeteers and Kzinti, and Alan Dean Foster's Thranx.
David Gerrold is best known for "The Trouble With Tribbles," but the one Star Trek script of his that I would most like to see, is one that was ultimately never made: "Blood and Fire," which was supposed to be in the Next Generation's first season. It dealt with the one topic that was taboo even for Trek: homosexuality, and featured an AIDS analogue, bloodworms, a disease so vile Starfleet orders are to kill patients infected with them. Gerrold himself is one of the few openly homosexual science fiction writers. "Blood and Fire" dealt with the way the treatment of fearful diseases creates a kind of anxious, ruthless inhumanity that lets us ignore suffering, which has always been a favorite topic of mine.
And the guy's still writing, too: I for one would love to see the next book in the Chtorr series. At least when it comes out, which at this rate sounds like sometime next century.
Monday, November 10, 2008
It isn't that they say "Spock's Brain," it's that they. Keep. On. SAYING. "Spock's Brain" over and over. Even in the original episode, the effect is, er, impressive.
It's like in one episode they've distilled everything that was head-shakingly embarassing about the original series: female aliens with go-go boots and miniskirts, Shatner overacting and pretending to fall down, accents as unlikely as they are inconstant, and science fiction concepts that Hugo Gernsback would have thrown out from AMAZING for being too ludicrous.
To its credit, most of the original series was cutting-edge in many ways. It also ranks as the only work Theodore Sturgeon (yes, that Theodore Sturgeon) ever did that he somehow didn't insert his creepy incest fascination. Still, it's hard to talk about how the original TREK was a drama comparable any non-genre television before or since, when "Spock's Brain" makes the whole thing look like a goofy comic book.
"Spock's Brain" is like discovering a diary you wrote at age 15. You used purple prose to talk about your greatest crush a girl that, with 20/20 hindsight, you realize was a dimwitted peasant; you read Ayn Rand and had your world "transformed," as if you were the first self-absorbed teenager in history to ever do so, instead of the billionth; you talk about how the only person to ever really express how you feel are Morissey lyrics.
SHAME. SHAME FOREVER!
Wednesday, November 5, 2008
I could hug a random stranger right now, that's the general feeling. I'll be back to being a bastard that hates being touched in the morning when the euphoria wears off.
It's so weird to know I'm living in a blue state. "Landslide" would be putting it mildly.
Friday, October 31, 2008
In The Know: Has Halloween Become Overcommercialized?
Just a reminder that costumes and candy are just a distraction from the true purpose of this holiday: to placate demons and ensure a bountiful harvest. Don't let the "War on Halloween" by our politically correct, secular society distract you from its true, malevolent and occult significance.
Hail Shoggoth, Black Goat of the Woods with the Thousand Young! May we not be devoured by invisible demons in front of screaming onlookers!
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
- George the Lockheed-Martin Executive
- Kathleen the road-rageaholic soccer Mom
- Chad the C-student son of a law partner
- And finally, Zoltan the Incredible
In the interests of fairness, it should be noted that Biden has gaffed tragically all over the hemisphere, but this is less of a big deal because really nobody cares what Biden has to say anyway. The idea that the Vice-President is the fourth branch of government is a post-Cheney Republican idea without support in the Constitution. The most righteous moment of the third Presidential debate was when Joe Biden corrected Palin: the job of the Veep is to cast the tie vote in the Senate, replace the president if necessary, and that's all.
That's one thing I'm loving about the Obama campaign: it restores the Vice-Presidential role to its former irrelevance. At first it looked like Obama messed up when he picked a predictable choice like Biden (I was saying it was going to be either Biden or Bill Richardson), but it's all a part of the plan: the executive branch isn't about the Vice, anyway.
I can't wait for election night. I'm looking forward to it like kids look forward to Christmas. With talk that Virginia (!) and Georgia (!) might turn blue, we're looking at one of the biggest landslides in American history. I'm going to Bicentennial Park to celebrate; the end of the Bush years would be like the fireworks scene in "Return of the Jedi."
Saturday, October 18, 2008
I've never seen people as excited about any candidate as they are about my buddy Barry.
Critics dismiss him as style over substance that gets ahead on a silver tongue and a strong speaking voice. Actually, I'm pleased to see Obama restore eloquence to the institution of the American presidency. After years of divisive, nasty politics that revisit old grudges from the sixties that are no longer relevant, here's a candidate that really is a "uniter."
There is something admirable about the campaign, which is one the best-organized I've ever seen. My Dad gave some money to Obama, and received an email that told Papa all the people in his area that did the same, and also gave him a list of people that are on the fence and need to be convinced. Wow!
Obama dominates the debate in such a way that makes what his opponent does seem like a sorry afterthought. After Obama's Kennedy-like speech in Berlin drew the press and world attention, McCain gave a series of speeches in all the small-town Berlins in America. Obama's refusal to knuckle-under to McCoward when he rightfully figured he'd get a drubbing by Hawaiian Abe Lincoln in the debates, and tried worming out with the "I'm busy" excuse. Obama's response was as classy as it was firm: "As President, you'll have to do more than one thing at a time." By standing firm, McChicken's grandstanding scheme backfired. It was great to see that after years of liberals rolling over and giving Republicans everything they want.
Likewise, Obama had an impact on policy and world affairs just as a candidate. His plan for a withdrawl from Iraq after meeting the country's leaders was not only adopted by McCain himself (after a bumbling essay he sent to the New York Times that didn't even define what "victory" would even mean) but was incorporated by the Bush administration.
Change is important because institutions have become outmoded. The 2004 election - based on bad feelings about Vietnam - was outmoded. Obama's change isn't just a slogan, but a sorely needed attitude to a world like a too-tight sweater. There's a visionary element to his character: his Kennedy-like declaration that within ten years America would be energy-independent, and that by 2050 we'd slash carbon emissions by 80%. Likewise, institutions created during the Cold War are no longer functional or necessary, at least in their current form. Obama proposes restructuring NATO with allies.
Likewise, health care needs to be restructured, social security needs to be restructured. The bailout was legislation crafted in panic that wasn't thought through, which gives the "Finance Czar" zero oversight in buying worthless assets.
I don't mean to gloat, but Barry represents a cultural shift in the U.S. after the collective national insanity that was the Bush Presidency. Even at the Republican convention, no one defended him except poor Laura.
When I first got political consciousness in the early 2000s, it was a very scary time. There was talk that strategists like Rove would create a permanent Republican majority, by swaying Latinos. Of course, this master plan broke down when the massive campaign against undocumented workers began - a "dogwhistle" term for expressing anti-Latino and anti-immigrant sentiment. Still, I do remember the 2000 Republican convention where they invited some goofy mariachi on stage, who scared me even more than even Darth Cheney.
Nowadays, the public has wised up. Our current cultural problems - the worst economy since the Great Depression - can't be blamed on the liberals, who weren't in power. They can be layed exclusively at the feet of conservative ideals: free market de-regulation and tax cuts, as well as the use of force and unilateralism to solve problems internationally.
In other words, conservatism failed. Let someone else have a try.
When I was in a Health Class back in high school, we received a brief test where we had to identify all the illegal drugs we had done. We didn’t have to attach our names to it, they just wanted to know how bad the problem was.
A little mischievous gleam entered my eye (one that I could see in quite a few other people in that classroom), and I started writing the most outrageously long list with every chemical substance I could possibly think of. I even wrote a few words that were meaningless but sounded malevolent, like “Chicken McNuggets.”
Being an H.G. Wells fan, I even put down “Recreational Cavorite.”
Apparently, Anti-Drug ads don’t work. Wow, what a shocker, eh? It seems to me they’ve amped up the scare tactics and unintentionally hilarious histrionics in recent times. I suppose they’re trying to get the Hannah Montana generation good and freaked, because mine is absolutely lost to them. In elementary school, we got buttons that said “I’ll Never Do Drugs” and we discovered almost immediately we could make a hilarious souvenir by whiting-out the “Never.”
Protip, guys: if you want something even resembling credibility, quit saying pot is as bad as crack.
I had an epiphany when I realized that anti-drug ads aren’t aimed at anyone that’s ever done drugs, or might do drugs. Rather, the ads are to give straight edgers and teetotalers a smug sense of superiority. They’re feel-good propaganda for the pasty virgins that go on “Teens Encounter Christ” bus trips. Your tax dollars at work!
The histrionic "say no to drugs" nonsense dovetails pretty nicely into a common experience that the children of boomers have: the way our terrorized parents gve us a sense that EVERYTHING CAN KILL YOU. This panicky overprotectiveness is one of the first things most of us remember rejecting when we reached our teens.
There was one anti-drug PSA that actually did look effective. Cannabis didn’t make you kill someone or smack a cute kid with a car or murder your parents. They did, however, make you sit around the house all the time, hang out with loser stoners, eat bugles, and watch "Aqua Teen Hunger Force." They left the part out about heading to the Taco Bell drive-thru at one in the morning.
Now there’s a painfully, tragically true anti-drug ad that I could get behind.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Each episode began with (say it with me now, fans)
“This show is based in part on theory and conjecture. The producer’s purpose is to suggest possible explanations, but not necessarily the only ones, to the mysteries we will examine.”
And you always knew, without fail, that the producers’ would jump to the wildest and nuttiest conclusion possible. It’s sort of like IN SEARCH OF… was the networks’ attempt to give equal time, just like they do for Republican and Democratic politicians, to the view of reality that makes the least sense.
“Okay, you’ve heard from sane people and experts. Now it’s OUR turn!”
I laugh of course, because I don’t believe in Bigfoot, or spirit photography or the extraterrestrial origin of Tiahuanaco in Bolivia. I’m a rational, skeptical adult with a functional, built-in bullshit detector. I don’t believe in Bigfoot, but I wish I did.
The thing I loved best about IN SEARCH OF… was the the music: harrowing, bizarre synthesizer notes that lent the show a real aura of high anxiety, often done in a minor key, with buzzes and shrieks, and musical chants similar to the Gregorian. It was like the soundtrack to fear and mystery. It would be wrong to say that the music was just “spooky,” but rather, the music evoked the unknown in an almost religious way. The music lent gravitas and awe to things at the liminality of experience, and compared to its music, the “suspense” music in other documentaries and even TV shows have looked invisible and chintzy in comparison.
There was, intriguingly enough, an IN SEARCH OF... soundtrack LP, one that I've been searching for for my entire life. Listen to a section.
Leonard Nimoy’s voice, as cold and grave as the tomb, worked perfectly with the spooky music. The series began with a pair of popular TV specials hosted by Rod Serling. Only after Serling’s untimely death was Leonard Nimoy hired. Nimoy’s presence, I suspect, was what made the show so popular: six seasons for a documentary show on Network TV is unheard of. This was in the era when Star Trek became the most popular show ever, and there was precious new material coming out; Spock in anything must have been a good consolation prize.
It’s strange to imagine IN SEARCH OF… without Nimoy. It’s like imagining CASABLANCA with Ronald Reagan in the title role. This, I suspect, is why the Sci-Fi channel remake of IN SEARCH OF… didn’t really work: it was too much of a traditional unsolved mystery/paranormal show, not enough creepy music or wild speculation, and no Nimoy. I once heard Edgar Allen Poe describe the genre of horror as a detective story where God is the detective, and that’s what Nimoy’s narrator felt like.
Watch a few complete IN SEARCH OF... episodes. This one's on Dracula:
What gave IN SEARCH OF… its power is that ultimately, it didn’t resolve anything. It refused to give straight and definitive answers, because their conjecture was fundamentally unprovable. Was St. Germáin really immortal? Are Andean carvings proof that the city of Tiahuanaco in Bolivia was “Earth Base One” for space colonists? Who the heck could know, or even prove it? This fundamental ambiguity to the mysteries examined was the spookiest thing about them. At some level, I didn’t WANT any of the mysteries to be solved. The existence of these mysteries themselves was enough to set the brain on fire.
IN SEARCH OF… had a “look” that was pure 1970s. As a result of this, it has much greater potential to frighten than something slick, fake-looking, and recent. Any given recreation on UNSOLVED MYSTERIES (the show that wishes it could be as cool as IN SEARCH OF…) had the same lighting and look as the Dixon Hill holodeck episodes on STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.
I can’t emphasize enough how important all these elements are. Alan Lansburg, the producer of the show, wrote a book that dealt with some of the themes of the show. Without the eerie atmosphere to provoke awe and anxiety, with Nimoy’s voice, and without the “seventies” film look, IN SEARCH OF.. just didn’t transfer to another medium. Landsburg’s book was just another paranormal casebook. Landsburg is himself an interesting figure: he created the only successful network TV documentaries, with THE UNDERSEA WORLD OF JACQUES COUSTEAU, IN SEARCH OF…, and THAT’S INCREDIBLE!
Here's another episode on the Tunguska Fireball of 1908:
My favorite episodes of the series were around religious or biblical themes in general, but specifically the episode where Coptic monks in Egypt claimed to find the resting place of John the Baptist hidden in their 1,900 year old monastery. To the best of my knowledge, the claim has been buried and not researched by any other source. Another story in the same vein would be the episode that argued that “Mt. Sinai” was actually at the only peak in the Sinai where there were Egyptian ruins – in other words, a site already sacred. At this mountain, the Egyptians worshipped Hathor, who assumed the form of a golden cow, which accounts for the Golden Calf.
My least favorite episode would be the one about the Grand Duchess Anastasia, because of the disappointment: recent genetic evidence shot down Anna Anderson’s claim to be the surviving Tsarina. It’s hard not to watch this episode with its speculation so utterly and definitively disproven. At some level, enjoying IN SEARCH OF… requires you pretend a little bit, to suspend disbelief.
All told, one thing that is interesting about IN SEARCH OF… is how, on some occasions, they were RIGHT. The very first time I ever heard the idea the Vikings landed in North America was in an episode of IN SEARCH OF… The idea Native Americans made landfall on North America was followed afterwards by an episode about “the Lake Monsters of Canada.” Nowadays, the idea the Vikings were bold enough to reach Newfoundland is now uncontroversial, a part of history. And this is a shift that happened within my lifetime.
IN SEARCH OF… was interesting in that it was a rare audiovisual treatment of traditional paranormal “culture.” For instance, they begin every anecdote about some weird creature with the ultimate “gotcha,” the Ceolocanth. They start with a statement like “If the Coelocanth survived, well then why not (fill in the blank)?”
I don’t miss being a kid. I value my independence and self-reliance. But one thing I do regret is the loss of the sense that there was something weird and miraculous in the world, that utterly fantastic is possible: witchcraft, hauntings, Yeti. A key piece to all of this is how the evidence was absent. IF ONLY someone could search under the left paw of the Egyptian Sphinx as Edgar Cayce predicted, there’d be a secret hidden library of scrolls that proved the existence of Atlantis!
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if someone were to find a lost temple in the Andes filled with flying machines? Wouldn’t it just be every comic book dream come true? When I was a kid, I used to wonder all the time why there were no real superheroes anywhere, even Batman-types with costumes and exercise routines. That's why I enjoy IN SEARCH OF... even more as an adult. It's like someone telling you Santa Claus was real after all.
Now that YouTube exists (God bless the inventor!) I can watch the series again. What’s really surprising to me is that the product I’ve come to know and love (the A&E edited version) isn’t the original. It was actually a little thrilling to see the original opening credit sequence. I remember being a little miffed that when the show was re-aired on the History Channel, they re-cut the opening sequence to something right out of BILL NYE, THE SCIENCE GUY. It seems I never experienced the “real” opening. Likewise, I was amazed to learn that the documentary movie I knew as THE OUTER SPACE CONNECTION was actually the original pilot special for IN SEARCH OF…, when the original intent was to have the series hosted by Rod Serling.
It’s a treat to watch ISO... again (at least the episodes I didn’t tape back in the VHS days – IN SEARCH OF… was the first show I ever used to regularly tape). It’s no exaggeration to say this show is a part of my life. There are several episodes I know by memory. When my Dad took me on a vacation to Arizona, I dragged him to see the Percival Lowell observatory because of the episode “IN SEARCH OF… Martians.” Whenever possible, I used to take dates to Coral Castle down around Homestead. When I visited Northern California for the first time, I structured my vacation video around the idea of an IN SEARCH OF… episode, with me doing my darndest to imitate Nimoy’s gravelly voice. And most importantly, while I don’t agree with their “theory and conjecture,” the show gave me awe and curiosity about myth, the past, and archeology that I possess to this day.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Wednesday, September 24, 2008
What's even more interesting was how seriously Brackett took the writing of atmosphere, something none of her contemporaries ever did: unlike Burroughs, her Mars was a shadow-filled world much like Robert E. Howard.
I suppose I have to give a shout-out to my hometown girl, Daina Chaviano, don't I? A Miami-native, and the only other Miami science fiction writers I can think of, off the top of my head are the late Hugh B. Cave and...didn't L. Sprague de Camp live out his last few days in Palm Beach, if I remember right? A few friends of mine were THIS close a while back to stalking Encyclopedia Brown creator Arnold J. Sobol, but that's a story for another time.
Unlike Leigh Brackett, who died before I was born, and known J.D. Salinger-esque recluses like Cuban-born, Daina Chaviano wrote several Spanish-language books, that derive from Cuban folklore and myth. A lot of the books that inspire her, I grew up reading. My Dad had a copy of UNA BATALLA CUBANA CONTRA LOS DIABLOS (A Cuban Battle Against the Demons) on his shelf for years, and it spooked the heck out of me. Asimov was fascinated by Communist science fiction, which discouraged exploration into different types of societies out of the sentiment they were creating a new one, like good 19th Century Americans.
Because her work hasn't been translated into English, here in the States, she's mostly read by science fiction fans of Cuban descent in Miami that speak Spanish, which is a niche of a niche.
This is something I've been arguing all along: Spanish language television needs to take advantage of the resource that is the emerging science fiction writing markets. Spanish language TV, if it's at all possible, is even more thickheaded and resistant to change than North American TV: the same damn telenovela over and over. There needs to a be a science fiction anthology series on Spanish speaking TV.
Part of the reason the 1960s produced so many science fiction series of quality (STAR TREKM THE OUTER LIMITS, etc.) was because of the emergence of a real talent base from science fiction that were willing to write for television, that could produce science fiction of quality: Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, and so on.
A similar phenomenon could be happening right now in the Spanish speaking world.
Friday, September 19, 2008
I have no idea whether this article is a parody or not.
As the writer of the article is a critic herself, it’s very tempting to look at her piece as a kind of satire that she’s writing from the point of view of an adopted persona: she’s not so much making fun of critics, as she is lampooning the whole internet-generation mentality, where the collective long-term memory has less than three months, the dominance of fanboys wowed by explosions, monsters and superheroes, raging anti-intellectualism, the importance of the blogosphere over traditional media, and last but not least, an overpowering sense of illiteracy and impatience. The over-the-top use of her language, liberally sprinkled with “totally” and “superawesome” while at the same time knowing who Fritz Lang and James Agee are, leads me to believe this is a joke.
I can just imagine the author cracking up at the idea there are some people out there that find themselves agreeing with the article.
On the other hand, there is a possibility all this isn't just fun and games. First, the obviously sincere envy and distaste for film critics, a print medium job that she correctly point out isn’t as relevant as it used to be in the age of blogs.
You get to see movies for free. You get paid to watch movies. You work part-time and get a full-time salary. You enjoy a private screening of "The Dark Knight" weeks before my buds and I queue up to pay big bucks at the multiplex. And then some of you have the nerve to badmouth Batman and the Joker! Show some love for the folks who keep you in lattes and DVDs.
Another interesting point that the article brings up: what exactly is the function of the critic?
I’m regularly known for having contradictory opinions. In fact, I’ve always thought that to agree with a large number of people on anything is a weakness. However, I’m just some random asshole on the internet beholden to no one but myself. I get paid nothing, I am not in a newspaper with an official position where I have to represent the moviegoing public.
As the article itself argues, “What we crave is consensus, write-ups that mirror the majority, the movie tastes of the teens and proles who rule the box office.” And also, “Shouldn't it be in the job description that if a critic sees a movie with 300 wildly applauding folks, it's against the rules to write as if that doesn't count? Like one fan wrote to a nit-picking critic: "If you do not like 'The Dark Knight' ... you should be fired because you do not speak for the people."
In other words, the film critic can be seen as having a position that isn't just giving their opinion, but is service-oriented. This is why we have film reviews in the entertainment section: to help people make decisions over where to go on a Friday night. If the film critic doesn't sync with the mentality of moviegoers, their ability to function should be questioned.
What the article seems to argue is that there is a disconnect between professional film critics and moviegoers, who are usually of an older generation, went to film school, and approach films from a different perspective. The article brings up the case of wildly popular comic book movies that critics don’t seem to "get." If that’s the case, how relevant is the function of the film critic, consulted not for their personal opinion, but for a recommendation as to the enjoyability of a movie? And if there is this disconnect, how important does the film critic become in the age of the blogosphere?
And this is something that is worth thinking about even if you don’t share the author’s anti-literacy and obvious anti-intellectual anxieties.
On the other hand, the average person is a moron. At some level, the function of the art, movie and food critic is to tell the average person they’re morons.
When the entire world was caught up in the mass hysteria that was TITANIC, the film critic of the L.A. Times had the stones to stand up and say the Emperor had no clothes. (If only someone had the guts to do the same to the schmaltzy, emotionally manipulative, dishonest FORREST GUMP as well!).
Here in Miami, there are two awards given for restaurants by the Miami Herald: one is given by reader poll, the other by professional food critics. A couple years ago, the award for “Best Japanese Restaurant” was given to, of all the places in this city, Benihana’s. Yes, Benihana's, the Applebee's of Japanese steakhouses. In an eighties ROLLING STONE magazine, there was a reader poll award given for the best guitarist in rock history, and the mental defectives chose the guitarist from the Bay City Rollers.
To answer the question at the beginning, the reason Judaism has kosher laws is a recognition of our humanity, that as human beings we don’t just shove anything in our mouths like an animal would.
And that, friends, is why we need movie critics. Because there is beauty and ugliness in the world, and it takes education and knowledge to discern one from the other. Food critics don’t just love every piece of teriyaki they shove into their mouths like the proles do, and critics know the difference between “Transformers” and “Dark Knight.”
Sunday, August 31, 2008
Dad, together with the ACLU, struck down an state travel law that prevented academics from visiting Cuba for research purposes, either with private or public money. The law was an unforgivable act of Miami intransigence, and a violation of academic freedom.
Read all about it here.
I've never been prouder of Dad. There are some things that transcend politics and the political realm, that supercede the limited boundaries of politics, for which the intrusion of politics into that realm is unwarranted: learning, academic exchange, and science are chief among them.
I was a hell of a kid to raise, a pure demon, heavy-metal music lover, and a borderline pyromaniac...but I have always been proud of my parents, and they have both given me the guidance I need to be a good and moral citizen, American, and adult. I couldn't be prouder of them.
Papa had some good old Perez-style tough talk for the supporters of the bill:
''Increasingly what has happened is that this has become an agenda for some state legislators from the Miami area who want to stake their political careers on appearing to be tough on Cuba from Tallahassee,'' Perez said. ``This was an insult by David Rivera.''
I will admit, it was fun to watch a worm like Rivera squirm. It was a blow against those that believe that the solution to political problems is to keep others isolated and ignorant.
''I think this law was a slap to Cubans in South Florida,'' Breslin said.
Ha. Bwahahahahahahaha. Hahahahahaha. Oh. My. Let me catch my breath. Muhuhuhahahaha!
Friday, August 22, 2008
Wednesday, August 13, 2008
First, South Ossetia is right at the mouth of the Black Sea and is generally considered to be the site of the end of Jason's quest for the Golden Fleece. Also, the Ossetians are descended from the Alanii, cavalry barbarians that were frequently employed by the Roman Empire. The Alanii loved to make use of tactics like defeating horses with huge dogs not unlike modern great danes. But more significantly, an Alanii cavalry force was dispatched to Britain led by a fellow named Artorius, who may or may not have been the inspiration for King Arthur. I should go into my theories about the origin of Arthurian legend in the future, but it would suffice here to say I'm not as convinced of the Artorius origin as Hollywood is.
The conflict is shaping up to be a bloody mess. First, it has to be remembered there are THREE actors here: Russia (obviously), Georgia, and the Ossetians. The Ossetians are an independent tribe with a long history that want independence from Georgia, and they've cozied up to Russia, who have never liked the Georgians ever since they rerouted an oil pipeline to the West to compete with the Russians. Also, Russian politicians love to scapegoat Georgians and Georgian immigrants the same way American politicians love to pander to Mexiphobic sentiment. Georgia on the other hand, won't stand for a loss of its territory, and politically giving the finger to the Russians plays well with the voters.
In essence, both sides in the war have decided to be assholes, and it looks like this is shaping up to go the distance. Like the Lebanon conflict, this is a war where everyone sees the advantage in continuing, and it would be political suicide at the polls for Russian and Georgian politicians if they back down. The big fear here is, naturally, genocide: if the Ossetians are creating a problem, a solution, for the Georgian side, is just to wipe them out. In fact, the recent U.N. Security Council meeting used the most hilarious euphemism yet for genocide when they expressed "concern for future demographic shifts in the region."
Friday, August 1, 2008
My game setting of choice is, naturally, Eberron. I've loved EBERRON since it came out in 2004 and became the dominant D&D game setting, and I'm not alone: a recent poll showed it to be the most popular of all third edition products. The tale of how Eberron came about is nothing short of gaming legend, the story of a wannabe that got to be. Wizards of the Coast, owners of D&D, created a contest: they were looking for someone to design a setting that would be the new centerpiece for D&D. Over 10,000 one-page proposals for a setting were sent in from all over the world.
Finally, I think I should end this article by talking a bit about the future of Eberron now that D&D has entered into a fourth edition. A lot of the FIU gamers have already dropped to their knees to suck off D&D 4th. From what I've read of D&D 4th, it's a mixed bag that I'll probably eventually get used to, just like I did when 3rd came out. In fact, the fact there is no Eberron for 4th is part of the reason I'm slow to adopt it.
All I have to say is, thank God there are no longer any Grapple checks. I really hate those moments when someone wants to do something and everybody at the dinner table whips their books out simultaneously to look it up. It's a little thing, but I like that there are no longer any racial ability penalties. Even in 3rd, that was an anachronistic throwback to the old days of game design when you could never have an advantage unless you were slightly annoyed by something.