Friday, February 29, 2008

COMICS- Graphic Novel Roundup

While I’ve been laid up I haven’t felt like doing anything (goes without saying) and haven’t been able to concentrate well enough to enjoy my usual reading habits. But being a voracious reader I find myself unable to give it up even when I can’t do it well. As a result, I’ve probably read 10 thousand pages of graphic novels in the last month. Now normally I’ll indulge myself in a graphic novel only when I see something that looks interesting and when I do I’ll buy the complete run of a title. For instance I read all nine PREACHER graphic novels last fall when the subject came up on a blog I read. I don’t read monthly comics and haven’t for quite a while (with the exception of ALL STAR BATMAN which I’ve bought the whole run of) so I don’t have any real sense of continuity and I find that suits me. It’s partly nostalgia and partly love of the art form for me now. So over the next few weeks I’m going to intersperse the usual blogging with what I think of what I’ve read. Most of these have been on the shelves for a while and all are available through Amazon, Ebay, or your local comics shop, so if you’re looking for a good read, try some of these.

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE Vols. 1-5- Kurt Busiek writer, George Perez (and others) art

This is a five part collection of the Avengers which comes in a nice hardbound set with excellent paper and printing. Each volume covers approximately one year of the series and each volume is reasonably priced at about 35 dollars each. I was familiar with Busiek from his ASTRO CITY work and had collected the early Perez Avengers monthlies when he started on the title, so I was really looking forward to seeing what they might do with this collection of Marvel’s greatest. However I was quickly disappointed to find that the humanity and insight that Busiek evidenced in ASTRO CITY was nowhere to be seen here. It starts out looking promising, with a new twist on the Scarlet Witch/Vision/Wonder Man affair, a couple of new members, all the old standards in attendance, and a subplot with a religious group that has political designs leading an anti-Avengers campaign. But it never goes anywhere and winds up being a rehash of so many old Avengers plot threads that for a while I wondered if I was reading one of those Retcon books that have become such a vogue. Plot threads are introduced and then wander endlessly through the almost nonstop fight scenes. The Avengers battle a laundry list of old foes, a new government liaison with questionable motives is introduced and forces a suspicious new member on the team, said new member is a black man with a chip on his shoulder about the “all white” Avengers (that the team has had several black members in the past is brushed aside), Hank Pym splits in two (again), and no real character development for anybody is even attempted. In one instance the vision asks Ms. Marvel (with a new name) on a date and then goes off in search of himself. We don’t see him again until we find him living giving up a secret identity and coming back. He and Carol make a remark about the date every few issues and then they go jet skiing. End of subplot. Each issue seems to feature a several page battle scene with just enough interaction to set the stage and offer a denouement after the fight.

George Perez’s artwork (which spans the first three books) is competent but nothing new if you’ve ever seen his work before. His style has been set in stone since his first work. I guess it’s a matter of “if it ain’t broke” but I’ve never understood why he’s such a fan favorite. He does a good job with team books because he fits more figures in per panel than anyone else but his panel layouts are uninspired, his figures often lack drama, and everything is lit the same way. He isn’t bad, he’s just mundane.

The artwork picks up a little when he leaves but unfortunately the unevenness of the revolving door of artists who follow him still hurts the book. My personal favorite is Alan Davis. I hadn’t seen Davis’ art since he was doing Batman for DC and short stints on Marvels mutant books. His style has matured, with dramatic lighting and far more realistic rendering than any other artist in the five volumes. His work is exceptional on the series but only lasts for a few issues.

All in all, I have to say that I was disappointed with the AVENGERS ASSEMBLE quintology. Not that the books were bad, just because I was expecting so much more.

THE ULTIMATES Vol. 1 and 2- Mark Millar writer and Bryan Hitch artist.

I’ve always been a fan of the imaginary tale in comics. I remember when I was a kid if that month’s issue of Superman would have the Imaginary Tale blurb on the cover I knew I was in for something special. I wondered about things like what would happen if Superman lost his powers, or if Lex Luthor had been rocketed to earth when Krypton exploded. Things were going to get shook up! When Marvel started their WHAT IF title I bought every one, taking a special shine to their shock ending style which was an improvement in some ways on the more mundane Superman books. So I came to the ULTIMATES with interest in what they were going to do to revamp the Avengers. In this case I was anything but disappointed. I had seen some of Smallville and knew that Millar was able to come up with interesting retcons for dull characters. (Superboy was always deadly dull to me. The only thing I liked about the comic when I was a kid was the Legion of Superheroes and the art- Neal Adams covers and Wally Wood inking.) But I was not prepared for what Millar was going to do with the Avengers. All the old plotlines are there but twisted through the funhouse mirror just like in Smallville. Hank Pym is a wife beater, Janet Pym is having an affair with Steve Rogers, Thor works for Greenpeace and nobody really thinks he’s a Norse God. The book is well plotted and the characters take center stage.

And the art is exquisite. Hitch grounds this reality-based approach to the characters with reality-based artwork that jumps off the page. Everything is lit like an episode of CSI. Every character has their own build and a recognizable face (necessary since the masks are off most of the time). The layouts are interesting and the whole thing plays like incredibly detailed storyboards for a movie. Nick Fury is even being played by Samuel S. Jackson. All this combines to give the characters real interest and veracity.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

POLITICS- Obama is Bush and McCain is Clinton

Hillary Clinton’s campaign so far reminds me of what Jack Nickolson said about Jessica Lange after staring with her in THE POSTMAN ALWAYS RINGS TWICE, “She’s part fawn and part Buick.” Clinton’s campaign has oscillated between trying to show her as softer and more human and the kind of hard-core politics that has been characteristic of the Bush-Clinton-Bush years. And as Obama has taken the lead and the momentum away from her, she seems to be becoming more desperate. The latest example of this is her diatribe on Obama’s fliers.

“Shame on you, Barack Obama!” she screeched during a speech in Cincinnati, Oh. Clinton was upset about literature from the Obama campaign that said that her health care plan would force people to buy insurance and that she was pro-NAFTA. Clinton denied both these charges and then went on to compare Obama to George W. Bush at length, saying that this was the kind of campaign Carl Rove would have waged.

Factually, the Obama flyers don’t really misrepresent Clinton’s views. While she isn’t anxious to say it, universal health coverage does imply that there will have to be penalties for refusing to participate. And the disingenuousness of her anti-NAFTA rhetoric in the blue collar states is quite different than both her husband’s help in passing the bill and her votes to expand the program (an irony I’ve pointed out in the past). But if there is anything that Hillary has learned, it’s that when you get hit, you have to go on the offensive. So right after her attempt to take the high ground at the end of the last debate, she finds herself in the position of comparing her opponent to the president. Right now the indications are that this may be the Democratic Primary equivalent of comparing somebody to Hitler on usenet.

Not that the Republican nominee had an easy week. The New York Times broke a story about McCain’s relationship with female lobbyist Vicki Iseman. The story was based mostly on anonymous sources supposedly from the 2000 McCain presidential bid who allegedly tried to keep the two apart and confronted McCain about the relationship. As the article’s title implies, the story is not so much about whether McCain had an affair but about how presenting himself as a moral paragon might exacerbate any questions about his ethics throughout his long career. It mentions his involvement in the Keating Five scandal and positions he took favorable to Ms. Iseman’s employer, Lowell Paxson. In true “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” Right Wing pundits came to McCain’s aid, casting the article as a smear job by a left wing newspaper. McCain promptly denied that there had been any affair. But it has now been established by a couple of other newspapers that McCain’s statements about never having met Paxson and not having been confronted by his staff aren’t exactly accurate. And the Times has reiterated that the story isn’t about sex, but about ethics. So it looks like the issue has helped McCain with the right wing of his party but hasn't played out yet.

MOVIES- In Defence of Oscar

Well, it’s Oscar night tonight. And with the annual Oscars comes the annual Oscar criticism. That the ceremony is boring and goes on far too long every year. That it’s a monument to vanity, where the uber-spoiled uber-rich strut and preen for the cameras and each other. That the voting is more about marketing and the Hollywood elite making statements rather than actually awarding excellence in cinema. That often the best in film never win. That it’s all politics anyway.

And all that is probably true. But that’s not why I watch the Oscars every year. I watch the Oscars for one reason and one reason only. The Oscars are the only time you may ever get to see these people be genuine.

Usually when you see an actor (or even a director or writer) they have been primped and polished to perfection. Every hair in place (even when it doesn’t look like it), makeup and clothing and lighting and background all orchestrated to make that person look and sound as good as they possibly can. Even during interviews, everything they say is scripted and rehearsed. Often these are people that you see more than some of the members of your own family, people you feel you know and often even feel that you like. You know about their marriages and divorces, their children, their hobbies, their problems. Our celebrity culture makes sure that even if you have no interest in movies or television, you probably know more about the intricacies or their lives than you do about your neighbors. But in reality you don’t know anything about them. What you know it what you’ve been told and what you’ve been shown.

And that’s why I love the Oscars. It’s the one night a year when you see these people in a real life situation. A situation that is not dissimilar to one you or I might find ourselves in- being at a party to honor excellence in our own profession. And it really means something to them. To be a lasting part of the history of what they love so much. Often the stress of wining an Oscar gives you real insight into the personality of the person on the podium. Whether it’s Sally Field’s insecurity in shouting “you like me, you really like me”; or David Niven’s genuine class and wit when, confronted with a streaker he simply made a joke about the man’s “shortcomings”, or even James Cameron’s hubris at saying he was “the king of the world”. (The last was unfortunately misunderstood as people forgot he was quoting the movie he won for.) Oscar night is a chance to see people who make their living pretending to be someone else be themselves for a change.

It’s also a chance to see just how many people stand behind the folks we all recognize. The ones who do the primping and polishing. The costumers, set designers, writers, artists, composers, and many others who work behind the scenes and make the stars look and sound so good. It’s a night for all the people who work to entertain us to put aside some of the artifice and be who they really are.

And who can resist seeing that?

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

HUMOR- Doug Stanhope

There are a lot of folks who have been billed as the new Bill Hicks. From what I’ve seen, this is usually as bad as all the bands during the 80s that got called the new Beatles (Duran Duran, Loverboy, the Georgia Satellites for frack’s sake). But the other day I saw a fellow that actually reminded me of Hicks. His name is Doug Stanhope. See what I mean.

Doug’s DVD, NO REFUNDS, is available from Netflix (even as a download) and there are several clips on YouTube. Check this guy out. He is the best comedian I’ve seen via the download service from Netflix so far. (Beat hell out of the Zak Galakanakis show I caught there.) I am a little confused at what algorithm their suggestions program is using when liking this referred me to American Hardcore and The Nazis: A Warning History, neither of which I've seen but that don't seem to be comedies.

BTW, if you have Nexflix and aren’t using the download feature you’re missing out. While the quality is poor, the search engine is abysmal, and the selection is meager, the price is certainly right. Unlimited downloads whatever plan you use (a recent upgrade).

While you’re there, check out GILBERT GOTTFRIED: DIRTY JOKES. Be warned, these are not only some of the dirtiest jokes you’ve ever heard but they are also probably jokes you have heard before. Gilbert apparently lifted the whole show from a session of his friends sitting around drunk one night, almost nothing is original. OTOH, even though I’m not a real fan of blue humor I still found myself cracking up repeatedly, mostly because of Godfried’s delivery (which is somewhat more subdued than his regular stage persona) and incredible timing. (However, only aficionados of total gross out humor need keep the show running when he closes with his version of The Aristocrats.)

POLITICS- Jonah Goldberg on BookTV

I had a lot of trouble listening to Jonah Goldberg on BookTV last weekend speaking about his book Liberal Fascism. His entire talk was based on quote-mining, invective, circular and often self contradictory arguments, and simple inaccuracies. In one 2 minute span he said that both Nazism was socialism and that socialism killed more people than Nazism. (How can socialism kill more people than socialism?) He then told a joke attributed to Harry Anderson badly. And it wasn’t even Harry’s joke! It was a bit done by Michael Davis where he juggled an axe, a knife, and a cleaver. Now that’s a small insignificant thing, but it is indicative of the kind of lazy attitude Goldberg takes about facts.

I swear I couldn’t make this up. At one point in the speech he says that he’s often called a fascist or Nazi by college audiences, but when he is he asks them, “other than the murder, bigotry, and genocide, what exactly you don’t like about nazism and they’d look at me like my basset hound used to look at me when I’d try to feed it a grape. They just couldn’t comprehend what I was saying to them so I’d fill it in for them. The Nazis were socialists.” When I run up against a comment like this I always have to wonder if the person making it is putting me on. I’ve decided that Ann Coulter is, for instance, But I’m convinced that Jonah doesn’t understand why making a ridiculous statement gets him a funny look because he’s oblivious to how ridiculous it is. Other than murder, bigotry and genocide. I wonder how many people have replied, “Isn’t that enough?” and had him look at them like he was a basset hound being fed a grape. Which is unfair to Jonah. His dog probably has a smarter look on it’s face than he does. After all, his dog knows that dogs are carnivores. In essence the basset hound and college student are looking at Goldberg the same way for the same reason. They can’t believe what a moron he is.

By the way, the whole dog story is a rip-off of a joke Bill Hicks did better. (“We can call anyone? Well, how about my fucking agent, and let's fire him together. Pittsburgh, you bastard. Good crowds? They stared at me like a dog that's just been shown a card-trick.”) No doubt Hicks is spinning in his grave knowing that Jonah is stealing his material, since he stands for just about everything that Hicks hated. That’s two for two. If that isn’t enough, the talk was opened with the joke, “I’ve I’d known the Heritage foundation was going to spring for a podium I wouldn’t have worn pants. (Followed by the sound of crickets chirping from the audience, who undoubtedly looked like Canis lupus familiaris viewing legerdemain.)” Goldberg needs to stay away from comedy. (Insert snaky comment about his political philosophy of your choice here.)

Goldberg seems to be incapable of separating reality from rhetoric. He answers a question regarding how liberals can be socialist and capitalist at the same time by saying “liberals are often confused.” To another question about how fascism is basically militaristic and the modern left is pacifist he replies that it has the moral equivalence of war. That’s some serious scholarship to be had there. Imperialism isn’t militaristic but pacifism is. Wow. At another point he states that it’s IMPOSSIBLE for Americans to become fascist because of our DNA. Such a thing would cause an “enormous antibody response”, he says. Sure it’s hyperbole, but his entire talk is loaded with such statements, which are presented as if they were facts instead of simply hot air. He comes off as a pseudo-intellectual who is so drenched in the rhetoric of the Right Wing that he’s lost sight of the difference between shit and shinola.

TECHNOLOGY- The War is Over

HD-DVD is dead. Now maybe we will get the Matrix and Star Trek movies on Blu-Ray.

Format wars have been around for a long time. There’s the old story of Edison electrocuting a mouse during a government hearing on the merits of AC vs. DC power for electrical transmission in the US. (In spite of his dramatic demonstration of the dangers of AC current, it was chosen anyway.) The one that the HD-DVD/Blu-Ray has been compared to most is, of course, VHS/Betamax. The videotape format war is somewhat of a cautionary tale. Sony’s Betamax format was technically superior in almost every way and continued to lead in innovation for years. It preceded VHS by almost a year, had superior video quality and better special effects, was the first format to incorporate high fidelity audio (at the time it was the best consumer audio recording quality available), and introduced the first camcorder. Sony won the format in almost every way except one- market penetration. JVC was a virtually unknown company in the US at the time, compared to Sony. They knew that it would be difficult to advance their format in the States unless they were able to license the technology to better known companies. So they did just that, most notably with RCA. RCA was one of the largest television manufacturers in America and had dealers in virtually every small town in the nation. Soon people who had never seen a Sony Betamax machine were able to select from several models of RCA branded VCRs in their home town and often could rent movies from those same stores. (The cost of a pre-recorded videocassette was often close to $100 dollars in the early 1980s!) While this worked for JVC in the long run (the formats competed for years), RCA had less luck with their CED videodisc format in it’s competition with Phillips’ Laservision format. Though neither fomat was ever widely accepted, in this case the higher quality format did eventually win. In large part this was due to Pioneer’s unflagging support of laserdisc for years after Phillips abandoned the format to team with Sony for the development of the Compact Disk.

For those of you who are still debating the merits of high-definition television, here is a quick primer on the different extant formats (reposted and expanded from my posts on FARK re: this subject in response to a poster that continually asked for “numbers, give me the numbers”).

(Numbers approx for analog formats)

Standard TV broadcast (best case) 330 line resolution, interlaced. Approx 160-170K pixels

This is color TV which added approx 25% increase in information to BW but due to the way it was added to the signal also caused interference between color and BW info. This characteristic was referred to as Y-C interference and was reduced by comb filters and almost vanquished by the S-VHS connector. It was best noticed as a row of crawling dots at the border of a horizontal line of color. Commonly referred to as “dot crawl”. (Duh.) Comb filters get their name from the manner in which the color signal was retrofitted to the existing Black and White television transmission standard. The bandwidth used for a BW signal had unused spaces in the waveforms. The color information was broken up and placed in the low signal areas. Color televisions not only required different tuners to decode the extra information, but three electron guns (rather than one in a BW set) to display it. (A major breakthrough was made by Sony when they invented a way to have one electron gun display all three colors (the Trinitron set). This coupled with Sony’s ability to improve linearity by using cylindrical rather than spherical tubes made them the manufacturer of choice in professional equipment for a long time.) This Y-C interference was a contributing factor to the American analog TV standard, NTSC for National Television Standards Committee, being called Never Twice the Same Color.

VHS (best case) 200 lines, interlaced. Approx 60K pixels.

VHS was also burdened with being an analog format that copied an analog format, so each generation had significant degradation. This was even evident on Pre-recorded VHS tapes. Mass production of VHS tapes was accomplished by having hundreds of VHS recorders hooked up to a single Master deck and then each was turned on and copies were made in real time.

Super-VHS (S-VHS) was about 400 lines with no increase in color information which made for a sharper, noisy picture with the same characteristic color bleed that VHS was famous for.

DVD 480 lines interlaced, max resolution 480x720, approx 345K pixels (which can’t be delivered by a standard analog TV)

720P HD 921K pixels delivered at twice the rate of interlaced signals

1080I HD 2073K pixels delivered at the same rate as analog

1080P HD 2073K pixels delivered at twice that rate

So arguably 1080P as it appears on Blu-Ray has about 12 times the number of pixels, not to mention a greatly expanded color palette and uncompressed 8 channel sound compared to DVD. Also, HD in general has spurred the greatest advances in display technology since the start of television broadcasting. Many people were so shocked by how much better their DVDs looked on their new HD televisions that they thought it was the TV itself and not the source that made a program hi-def .

So the format war is over and the better format won. A victory for consumers who now will be able to start replacing their existing DVD libraries. But they had better do it quick, downloads are just around the corner. To get an idea how those formats stack up, quality wise, have a look here.

RELIGION- God Loves Irony

A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign.

And we have a winner!

“Dwindling donations to the Living Word Christian Center in Brooklyn Park have prompted its high-profile pastor, Mac Hammond, to put his private business jet on the market.”

The real story is that Living Word is one of the Christian churches that preach the “Prosperity Gospel”, the idea that if you live a good life the Lord will reward you with material gains. A donation shortfall of 40-70 thousand dollars a week has required Reverend Hammond to do without his private jet, leading one to wonder how anyone could continue the lord’s work under such hardship.

There is always room for interpretation when it comes to the bible (1200 Christian denominations can’t be wrong) but Jesus seemed pretty clear about what he thought of greed and the pursuit of wealth. But as plain as the gospels are about it hasn’t stopped people from rationalizing that camel through the eye of the needle thing for centuries. I once heard a fellow in church explain that a “needle” was actually a kind of barn door and that camels went through them all the time. I couldn’t catch myself before I actually laughed out loud. If metaphors are a little too much for you there’s always the rich man that, after telling Christ he followed all the commandments and wanted to know if there was anything else he needed to do, was told to give away his wealth. Or the either/or choice between God and Mammon in the sermon on the mount. Or the old “take no thought for the morrow” bromide. Jesus may have been ambiguous about some things but was pretty plain that wanting to be rich and wanting to serve God were mutually exclusive.

But Christianity nowadays isn’t the religion of Christ, it’s more a religion about Christ. To paraphrase Bobcat Goldthwait, blaming Jesus Christ for Christianity is like blaming Ronald McDonald when you get a bad burger. It isn’t like either one is running the company. But maybe there is some sort of justice. When a church that preaches righteousness is rewarded with financial gains has money trouble, it’s a hint and a half for you.

He who has ears, let him hear.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

COMICS- The Simpsons Birthday

Matt Groening turns 54 today. In case you don’t know, Matt is the creator of the Simpsons and Futurama, artist and writer of Life in Hell. What you might not know is that his father was named Homer and his mother was named Marge (maiden name Wiggin). He also has sisters named Lisa and Maggie. That’s what happens when opportunity knocks and you wind up designing a bunch of cartoon characters while you’re sitting in somebody’s office.

Art thrives on limitation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

COMICS- Steve Gerber dead at 60

They say these things come in threes. No time to comment on this, I'll do so tomorrow, but I had to mention that Steve Gerber, creator of Howard the Duck, has died. Tom Spurgeon has a wonderful retrospective of Gerber's life at the Comics Reporter.

POLITICS- Welcome to the USSR

If you give a damn about freedom, the constitution, or America you should be appalled that the senate has passed a law granting retroactive immunity to the telecommunications companies for assisting the Bush administration with their (IMHO illegal) wiretapping program. And if you think the Democrats are any better than the Republicans this is another wake up call for you that they really march to the same drummer. Given a choice between protecting Americans from their government and protecting the government from Americans, both Dems and Reps decided that protecting the government from the citizens was more important than the reverse. Of course, that's what it's about. Immunity means that all the court cases will stop and we'll find out what the government is doing when it decides to tell us. It was really about keeping the citizens from finding out just how much snooping the government has done and how much technology has been implemented to ease further wiretapping. Now we will probably never know what's behind this door.

Congress has let it be known that if the government comes to you and asks you to do something that you probably shouldn't, at least they will take care of you. Telecoms can no longer be held accountable for breaking the law to assist the government to break the law. If Jonah Goldberg wants to know what fascism is, here it sits.

Both of our Tennessee senators voted for it, being the faithful Party members that they are. So did Republican presidential hopeful John McCain. But the surprising news is that Hillary Clinton didn’t vote for the measure, she voted “present”. Something she had dinged Obama for earlier in the campaign. An interesting vote. She didn’t vote against the telecoms, she abstained. I wish I knew how much money she’s gotten for her campaign from them. I wonder how much Bill got. I’m no Google magician. I can find out how tall she is, but I can’t seem to find out how much money she’s gotten from the telecoms The difference between the illusion of ubiquitous information and the reality.

Obama voted against immunity! There’s your choice right there. Only one of the Democratic presidential candidates thought that finding out just how deeply our government is spying on its own citizens would be important to Americans.

There’s your choice. Of everyone running for president only one candidate thinks your privacy is worth protecting.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

POLITICS- Obama is a fascist

Jonah Goldberg continues to shoehorn everything into his Liberal Fascism box with the complete lack of a sense of irony that characterizes the right wing. Today the subject is how Barack Obama is a fascist. (Swear to God!) To do this he More than anything he reminds me of an old Jerry Clower comedy routine where he tells someone they are ‘educated beyond their intelligence’. It’s telling that his blog doesn’t invite comments. Such a soap bubble construction has to be protected at all costs. Here are some of the quotes from today’s blog entry that prove you can’t do satire anymore.

“He often makes it sound like he has been selected by forces of providence or God or simply history for this moment.”

Whereas if he just came out and said that God had chosen him to lead that would be all right.

“As I discuss at length in the book, totalitarianism was for Mussolini a way of uniting businesses, classes, regions, religions, institutions and people from “all walks of life” — in Obama’s words — in a common cause for the common good.”

There’s nothing more fascist than claiming to be a uniter rather than a divider. And if you say any different then you must not be patriotic.

“This was a sacred, spiritual, calling. ‘Fascism,’ Il Duce declared time and again, ‘is a religion.’”

Wow. Just, wow. This from a member of the party that equates conservatism with religion and stages political meetings in churches

“In other words, God had chosen his preferred economic system, and any religious faith, doctrine or revelation that suggested otherwise must be false.”

And we all know that’s capitalism. After all, didn’t Jesus talk at length about how important it was to amass all the riches you can? It was the godless communists who invented taking care of everyone.

The whole thing goes on like that. My first thought was to repost the whole article and use “find and replace” to exchange Obama’s name with Bush’s but I leave that as an exercise for the reader.

I haven’t addressed Goldberg’s book because it’s so full of prevarication and mendacity that even the Right is laughing at it. One of the opening comments is how the word “fascism” is such a loaded term that it has become a Godwin trigger in discussions. He then goes on for hundreds of pages to apply it to his political enemies. Apparently every political movement except Neoconservatism is fascist. Goldberg is like a pseudo-intellectual Ann Coulter without the anorexia (or the balls).

SCIENCE- Darwin's Birthday

Happy Darwin Day

I didn't even know it was a holiday. Do I get paid for it? I do for Christmas and Easter.

Like many people, I have grown so sick of the “debate” over evolution that I want to barf.

There are few things more silly than reading the arguments for an against evolution online- all sound and fury, signifying nothing. Ben Stein is releasing a movie about the prohibition on serious scientific inquiry regarding Intelligent Design. I’m anxious to see it. If there is such a conspiracy in the scientific community then it needs to be exposed because such a thing would be deadly to the very nature of science. It has certainly happened before. Virtually no new scientific theory is accepted without some intransigence from the establishment but the defining virtue of science is that it continues to change to accommodate new information and new ways of thinking. But reading the comments online is so frustrating to any one who actually has an inquiring mind that it’s a waste of time. ID may not be appropriate to teach in a science class but I wish to hell they would start teaching logic and debate. I wish I would never again read:

“Science is just another religion.” No. This is simply wrong. If you think this, please don’t post it and advertise your ignorance. Science and religion have almost nothing in common except some of the answers each provide might contradict the other’s views. Saying that people “believe” in science is worthless. Under this definition of religion EVERYTHING is religion. And, indeed, this seems to be the idea at the heart of this argument. People may believe in science, but it is not dependent on belief to work. Q.E.D.

“Darwin (or fill in the blank with whomever you wish to discredit) said…” followed by something that offends our modern sensibilities or is patently wrong. Infallibility is the claim of religious leaders, not scientists. Everybody says things that are wrong, it doesn’t prevent them from being right about other things. This has come to be known as quote mining, which is a term I differ with unless the quote is taken out of context or distorted in some other way to change the intent. In any case, it is irrelevant. Newton was perhaps the greatest scientist in history, yet he spent years looking for a way to turn lead into gold. Doesn’t mean he was wrong about calculus.

“Many great scientists were (are) religious.” Again, this is irrelevant. People choose belief systems for a great number of reasons but few apply scientific scrutiny to them. Gregor Medel laid the groundwork for modern genetics. And he was a monk! Remember, science doesn’t require belief to work.

“Evolution is just a theory.” I do not think that word means what you think it means. The term “scientific theory” has a specific meaning and it isn’t “something I just pulled out of my ass” or “something I believe might be right”. In science a theory is a framework in which observations can be understood in relation to one another. It has to include all available facts and also accommodate any new facts that are discovered. Theories are not dogmatic. If they are contradicted by new information they must be modified or discarded. See my first series on science for several examples of this in action.

“There are all sorts of holes in the theory of Evolution.” While there may be things that are not completely understood, evolution is a framework that has held up to attempts to discredit it for 150 years. Modern genetics is nothing but the study of the mechanism by which these changes are passed from one generation to another. And even if there are discrepancies, it has to be supplanted by a theory that includes all available information and answers those challenges. Newton’s Theory of Gravity was in conflict with the observed orbit of Mercury for a long time but until Einstein formulated a better theory of gravity it stood. Perhaps someday Evolution will be supplanted by a better theory, but just saying that it doesn’t explain everything is a starting point for that new theory, not an end in itself.

“Where are the transitional forms?” This shows a basic misunderstanding of the whole question. All fossils are transitional forms. You might as well disavow film because it doesn’t show you what happens between frames. The only way to satisfy this argument would be to find a fossil bed where every creature lied down on the grave of their parent for a million years. Again, using this argument simply betrays your ignorance of the subject.

“I believe in microevolution but not macroevolution.” This is a straw grasped at by people who aren’t willing to admit they are wrong but realize that we’ve actually observed the evolution of microorganisms. My question is always, “Where do you draw the line?” If you’ve ever seen a dog, then you have a hard time denying macroevolution.

“I don’t believe in evolution but I do believe that creatures change to accommodate their environments.” Dude, you believe in evolution.

“It’s a freedom of speech issue.” No, it’s not. But this argument strikes at the heart of the ID agenda. They aren’t looking for scientific vindication. The history of science is replete with examples of a new theory replacing an older theory. The political argument is a tacit admission that ID cannot stand on it’s own and has to use politics to be accepted as science. No one is saying that you can’t believe, promote, study, or research ID. They are just saying that it can’t be taught in public schools until it’s accepted as science. You know, by scientists. The same bogus argument is used for prayer in schools. No one is saying that you can’t pray in school, they are just saying you can’t use the public school system as a platform for advancing your personal religious beliefs. And if it was some other religion doing it you’ve figure out pretty fast why it’s a good idea to keep that from happening.

One more thing about that. ID shouldn’t be taught as science because it isn’t. Science looks at phenomena and tries to explain them. ID starts with a conclusion about what is happening and works backward to try to support it. In fact, ID is the opposite of science. Its conclusion is that God created the universe and everything in it. This means that there is no reason to look for understanding. You already have it. This is tantamount to an end of scientific enquiry. If this was the method of science then any scientific question could be answered by saying “because God made it that way”. I think that part of the resistance of the scientific community to ID is based on an understanding of this fact. ID doesn’t seek to validate itself as a scientific theory, it seeks to dismantle the very basis of science. If your curiosity leads you to conclusions that might invalidate my faith, you must be wrong. I’ll figure out why later.

That ain’t science.

SCIENCE- Creation Science

A quick note to say that, while I have been under the weather, the reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.

Lying on the couch and not feeling well leads one to excessive amounts of woolgathering. I’ve been trying to write a science fiction short story. It’s in the sub genre of “hard” SF, which is SF that strives for a certain kind of scientific veracity. Now, if you want to write moderately Hard SF (sort of an Extra-firm SF) and don’t have a sexual relationship with research tools you should start contemplating the inner lives of elves right now. The “real” universe is a moving target.

The thing about research is that you never know what you are going to find. For instance, scientists didn’t really think much about questions of the origin of the universe until about a hundred years ago. Does that sound crazy? You might think that science and religion have been at odds since the Greeks started the whole natural philosophy thing back in 600BC but that actually isn’t the case.

Let’s look at what passed for science in Ancient Greece. You might say that what science shares with the Greeks (the Ionians predominantly) is the idea of naturalistic explanations for everyday events. They didn’t discount gods entirely, but they felt that the world was a machine built on a certain structure and that you could explain that structure using mathematics. They also thought that observation, contemplation and logic were enough to figure things out. They were big on debate but not so much on experimentation. And their schools of natural philosophy were not limited to nature and math. Lifestyle and diet, ethics and politics were intertwined in the teachings. Greek science was more like a religion than anything we have today. On the other hand, Greek religion was a lot more laid back than a lot of what we see nowadays too. Nothing was being blown up and everybody had a right to their own opinion. We’d have a hard time telling science from religion in Ancient Greece.

By the time experimental science as we know it came into vogue it was the renaissance. And it seems that certain branches of science were almost immediately at odds with the church at the time. Popes had no trouble with chemistry or engineering. They liked war machines and castles and had no problem with the search to turn lead into gold. But they didn’t much like people poking into the heavens. Seemed like folks were intruding on their exclusive territory, I guess. So when Galileo Galilei was testing the strength of metals and developing basic motion physics he was fine. But when he famously turned his newly refined telescope to the sky, the trouble started.

Galileo wasn’t trying to upset the natural order of things. He’d heard you could build a tube with a couple of lenses and see far off things better through it. So he built such a thing. His first was probably about 3x magnification- no good for astronomy. But he built more telescopes and better ones. And eventually he pointed one of the better ones up at the sky at night.

And he saw stars. He saw that stars got brighter and there were a lot more than you could see with the naked eye, but they didn’t move against the background of the sky and you couldn’t see a disk. The planets were different. You could see the shape of a disk when you looked at a planet and they moved against the background of the stars. All of this made the planets pretty interesting so he looked at Jupiter and saw that there was a line of small stars near Jupiter that did move. And after watching them every night for a while he figured out that the way they were moving meant that they were three smaller stars going around Jupiter. He later found a fourth, what we call the Galilean satellites, Jupiter’s four largest moons.

Galileo was a proponent of Copernicus’ theory that the sun was at the center of the universe. And that there were independent spheres of influence- such as the moon orbiting the earth. If Galileo had seen moons also orbiting Jupiter this was spectacular evidence that Copernicus was right. Common wisdom and the Catholic Church both said differently. It was obvious that the earth was the center of the universe, a view most right thinking people had held since Aristotle and about 300BC. There was also the bible. Psalm 93:1, Psalm 96:10, and Psalm 104:5 all talk about the earth not moving so all this talk of the heavens moving was disturbing to the established order.

The first response of many people was to simply say that Galileo had seen no such thing. Others said that it didn’t matter what he saw, the whole idea was heretical and that was enough. Galileo started to get so much heat for what he was saying that he went to Rome specifically to ask the church not to ban his writing in 1616. He was told not to advocate Copernicus’ theory and for a while he didn’t. But in 1623 a new pope, Urban VIII, was elected. Now, back in the day, Pope Urban had been Cardinal Barbarini who had been against the original ban on Galileo writing about heliocentrism in 1616. So four short years after the new pope took the job, in 1632, Galileo published a book called Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems, a hypothetical conversation between two gentlemen about the shape of the universe. Since this was hypothetical, the new pope gave his blessing, asking only that the two sides both be presented and that he would be able to add his own comment.

Sound familiar? Basically Galileo can teach science as long as he gives equal time to the church’s view. Renaissance Creation Science. Problem with that is Galileo actually believed heliocentrism was right. And he was a bit of a smart ass. So he takes the Pope’s point of view and puts it into the mouth of a character named Simplicius, the defender of the Aristotelian view. From the name of the character you can see where this is going, can’t you? Simplicius is a bit of a moron. He contradicts himself and ties himself up in logical knots. His opponent, Salviati is logical and concise. And of course, Salviati wins the argument handily.

This is one of those times in history where you wonder what everybody was thinking. Galileo had to know that he was piling it on a little thick. But this was the age of discovery and Galileo wasn’t going to let a bunch of priests tell him what he was or wasn’t seeing in the heavens with his own eyes. On the other hand, most of the priests thought that this was a great indulgence since the book was at least borderline heresy to start with. The Pope had to figure that Galileo wasn’t going to lose his own argument (the Pope being infallible and all) but everybody was still a little bit surprised at Simplicius.

The new pope loved the book so much that he had Galileo back in Rome on charges of heresy the very next year. Galileo was to recant the book and was given a life sentence in prison. Supposedly after publicly recanting his views he muttered “and yet it moves” but this is probably some screenwriters embellishment.

Galileo’s sentence would later be commuted to house arrest. He would spend the rest of his life bared from travel and publishing anything new. His existing books were banned as well. He would eventually go blind in prison and the ban on his writing would remain for almost 75 years after his death. Even then, the ban on publishing Dialogue would remain. Of course, nowadays almost everybody thinks Copernicus was right. Even the Catholic Church admitted it a few years ago.

And remember, this wasn’t the actual existence of God or the beginning of the cosmos or the descent of man they were arguing. It was just if the planets moved around the sun or vice versa. At one point Galileo made the argument that you couldn’t expect a book of hymns and poems (speaking of Psalms particularly) to be astronomically accurate. This is remarkably similar to my own viewpoint about Genesis. How exactly does god explain the origin of the universe to Bedouin on the edge of the desert 5000 years ago. With a scientific theory? These are people who’s version of the internet is that newfangled information technology- paper! Is God going to say photon decoupling or separating the light from the darkness to these people? Genesis HAS TO BE a metaphor. They had no language for Him to explain it any differently.

Funny thing is, just like Galileo sort of opened up a big can of worms by wondering what the stars would look like through his telescope, modern cosmology kinda backed into it’s part of the current origins debate. Until about a hundred years ago, scientists were generally working on more mundane items. A hundred years after Dalton published his New System of Chemical Philosophy, Albert Einstein, who honest to god was working as a patent clerk at the time, published a couple of papers on the nature of matter. In these papers he made a number of revolutionary claims: That nothing could travel faster than the speed of light, that matter and energy were the same thing, that time was dependant on your frame of reference, that gravity slowed time and bent light. Crazy stuff. But none of it was a crazy as the conclusion that the whole thing only worked if the universe was expanding. The idea was so insane that Einstein corrected it in the math by inserting a gravitational constant to balance the equation.

He would later say that it was the worst mistake he had ever made.

It’s easy to see why Einstein shied away from the idea. We take it for granted. But he must have seen the implication. If the universe is expanding, and nothing goes faster than the speed of light, if you could figure out how big the universe was you could figure out when it had started.

A creation moment.

Now science doesn’t look for big truths. Science looks for simple answers. Most scientists in the modern age were tinkerers more than the philosopher-scientists of Ancient Greece. From Galileo to Dalton, the experimental result ruled science and had gone from questions of how fast things fell and whether the earth went round the sun to the properties of atoms. They were thinkers but they were also the “lets fly a kite in a thunderstorm with a Leyden Jar Attached to the string” kind of guys. They wanted to figure out how things worked but they thought the universe was pretty much a given. It had always just existed. Einstein didn’t start out thinking that he was going to figure out the beginning of the universe. He just wondered what the universe would look like to you if you were going almost the speed of light (and about the nature of space, time, matter, and energy in the process).

Einstein might have shied away from his equations but a Russian named Alexander Freidmann didn’t. He saw the implications and wrote the expansion back in as the Friedmann Equations. And within a couple of short years Edmund Hubble would verify that “spiral nebulae” were actually other galaxies and that the further away they were, the greater their redshift. The universe was expanding after all. Einstein’s equations had pointed out that the universe had been born.

About 14 billion years ago, if you were wondering.

Now all this talk of the birth of the universe got the attention of a Roman Catholic Priest who carried on the scientific tradition in the church. (Not everything was like the unpleasantness with Galileo. You just don’t call the Pope a simpleton and make his alter ego look like an ass. That ain’t science, that’s common sense.) Georges Lemaître put it all together in 1927. He was unaware of Friedmann but independantly derived the math from Einstein’s equations and predicted that the “spiral Nebulae” were moving away from us just as everything else was. He also worked his way back to what he called a “primeval atom”, a birth event for the universe. It’s easy to see why Lemaitre must have liked the idea. I’m sure it dovetailed nicely with some other ideas he already had about the origin of the universe. But many other scientists were appalled. In fact Lemaitre’s theory would only take on it’s popular name when Steady State theorist Fred Hoyle insultingly referred to it as the “big bang idea” on the radio in Britain in the 1950s.

It’s kind of freaky to realize how recently we started understanding this stuff. When we talk about Greece or Renaissance Italy, it’s a sort of imaginary bucolic world where men dressed in bed sheets (Greece) or couch upholstery and curtains from the 1950s (17th century Europe) talk about the structure of the universe and engage in the pursuit of science for the love of learning. When you think of the biblical origin stories it becomes even more prosaic. The bed sheets become wool blankets and sandals, and the men communicate with the almighty under starry night skies. But in all these scenarios, the basics are pretty much the same. If you are any of these men you heat your home by burning something in it. The fastest you can travel is a boat, on the back of some animal on land. Information only travels as fast as somebody can carry it. Your understanding of the universe is limited by the tools you have. There are no cars, telephones, telegraphs, airplanes, internet, television, radio, computers. If you are one of these men you live like men have lived for the history of the world.

But we don’t live that way. And the men responsible for finally settling the question of whether there was a creation event for the universe didn’t live like that either. They were geeks. They lived in a world of cars and planes and television. In fact if Arno Penzias and Robert Woodrow Wilson walked into Googleplex tomorrow morning looking for a job, wearing what they probably wore to work every day at Bell labs, the only problem they would have would be that they were overdressed.

It was 1965 and Mr. Penzias and Wilson were working at the Crawford Hill facility of Bell Labs. They were fiddling with an antenna used for radio astronomy and satellite communications. But they had a problem. They couldn’t get rid of a spike in the background noise at a particular frequency. They tried everything and they couldn’t figure out why they were getting a spike. It wasn’t the antenna and it wasn’t the radio circuit. They figured that the only thing left was that it was some sort of radiation. It wasn’t anything else they could find. Finally in desperation they called Robert Dicke at Princeton University. Dicke was an expert on radiation and he instantly recognized that it was the background radiation from the actual big bang!

This didn’t exactly surprise Dicke; he had been working for a couple of years with a team at Princeton to build a receiver that could hear the Cosmic Background Radiation left over from the Big Bang. He is famously reported, after the phone call from Wilson and Penzias, to have told the engineers working on the project, David Todd Wilkinson and Peter Roll, that they had been “scooped”. He had only published his work on CMB the year before. But here were two Bell Labs engineers telling him that they had found what he was looking for. And asking him if he knew how they could get rid of it.

He never did tell them how to get rid of it, but they did get the Nobel Prize for their little antenna with the puzzling glitch. They had confirmed the big bang. Penzias and Wilson had heard the echo of the shout that had created the universe. Later experiments would map the Cosmic Background Radiation to increasingly finer degrees. Allowing physicists to actually see the swirls and eddies in the Big Bang that allowed enough non-uniformity for galaxies to form from the detritus.

From the crazy ideas of a patent clerk after the first World War, ideas that even he couldn’t believe, to actually receiving the signal from the Big Bang in about 40 years. A basic revelation of the nature of the universe in a lifetime and in our lifetime. We are the first generation in the history of humanity to have any kind of empirical evidence that the universe had a beginning.

This brings me back to the end of the first installment of this particular look at the history of science. Galileo had visual observations to back him up but that wasn’t good enough. There were too many people who didn’t care what he thought he had seen and didn’t care to look for themselves. He lamented in the forward to his book Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems that too many people who did not understand his observations had nevertheless commented on the Copernican system. Likewise I commented on why the biblical story could not be considered science while never taking a side on whether it was actually accurate.

The funny thing is that even though if God appeared to migrant workers in the dawn of history, what he said to them was profound and different. At the time of Moses (which is kind of up in the air since there is no historical record of the Jews leaving Egypt under dramatic circumstances) everybody had a pretty linear idea of the universe. It was this way because it had always been this way. In our time we would call this the worst possible justification for anything. But when you’ve run a successful government for a couple of thousand years and everybody is pretty happy with it, things look a little different. (And don’t kid yourself. The Egyptian system was the longest enduring of any we have record of in human history. They must have been doing something right.) Moses had a completely different idea- that the universe had been created in a process, each step leading to a different step, complex structures built on the foundation of simpler creations. And allowing for poetic license, he had a pretty sophisticated view of the process that parallels modern cosmology uncannily. But it wasn’t until Einstein that science actually theoretically posited a beginning for the universe. Just a hundred years ago.

Monday, February 11, 2008

MOVIES- Roy Scheider dead at 75

Sometime when a movie star dies it's like losing someone you know. I feel that way about Roy Scheider. I guess like most people I became aware of him with The French Connection and Jaws but somehow he wound up in several of my favorite movies.

Blue Thunder (1983) was one of the last adventure movies made with any tie to reality before the advent of the steroid action hero leading man. I showed it to a friend just a few weeks ago when it was shown on HDNet and it holds up remarkably well for a 25 year old movie. It's the kind of part that can become caricature easily but thanks to Scheider it never does. (Movie trivia- Malcolm McDowell's evil grimace in the flying scenes was the result of deathly air-sickness which he experienced whenever he was up in the air. So if you thought his tight lipped, bug eyed expression was great acting, it was actually an attempt to keep his lunch from becoming airborne.)

2010 (1984) was Peter Hyams' sequel to Kubrick's masterpiece and while it didn't hold up against it's predecessor (or the book) it wasn't bad thanks mostly to Scheider's performance. A good example of his understated talent is seen in his reply to the Russians' statement that he would interpret the telemetry. "Good." His delivery of this throwaway line always makes me laugh.

All That Jazz (1979) saw Scheider play a character that was, for all intents, the director- Bob Fosse. As Joe Gideon, Fosse's alter ego, Scheider sings, dances, takes uppers and downers, smokes (even in the shower), has unprotected sex with many partners, choreographs a musical, edits a movie, and is an unforgiving perfectionist with himself and everyone around him. Yet somehow Scheider makes the character likable in spite of all that. All That Jazz is a musical for people who don't like musicals and an excellent movie that stands up as a movie even without the singing and dancing. If you haven't seen it- go right now and rent it. One of the best ever and morbidly fitting for reasons I won't spoil for you.

Jaws needs no introduction. And again Scheider's understated style works perfectly to bring a sense of reality to the movie. Spielberg's direction, Dreyfuss' humor, Shaw's earthiness, were all held together by the anchor of Scheider's point of view. He serves as surrogate for the audience and the performance never draws attention to itself while at the same time being nuanced and expressive. A lesser actor with such a part and such a cast around him might be overshadowed. Roy Scheider was not.

Death comes to every man but few men leave behind them the record that Roy Scheider did. His work and talent exist for all time. I'm saddened by his passing but gladdened by the legacy of the great movies he made. He will be missed.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

MOVIES- Neuromancer

So what about a movie?

Neuromancer: Story to Film

Film Noir was set into the bones of cinematic cyberpunk with the original CP movie- Blade Runner. And the essence of Film Noir is all over Neuromancer. You can almost hear a Chandleresque voiceover reading the book. So why would you do anything other than a Noir treatment? Not that I’m advocating a voice over. I have the classic aversion to voiceovers in movies. Not that they don’t work sometimes, but it’s a movie- show what’s happening. And the dialog is so exposition heavy that in this case a voiceover could easily be too much. It’s a shame to lose Gibson’s prose but perhaps it could be placed in the mouths of background characters. Visually have as much detail about the world as possible without stopping to linger on any of it. Bathe the viewer in ambiance. Overload the eye with minutiae.

Keep the direction simple. The world is going to be confusing enough with everybody using words and concepts the audience might not be familiar with. Let the situations, speech, and environment be weird, don’t let flashy camerawork compete for attention. I think this is the main reason that I’m not particularly sad at the loss of Chris Cunningham as director. Cunningham had worked on a movie treatment and script for quite a while. Because of his affinity for the material and visual aplomb, he was doubtless a better choice than Joseph Kahn but would still be a first time director dealing with difficult material. And you never know what you’re going to get when you let a music video director do their first feature. (Think David Fincher and Alien3.) Cunningham’s videos for Aphex Twin and Bjork had that cyberpunk vibe in spades and a nice eye for composition and mood but were overpowered by the type of self conscious camera work and seizure inducing cutting that is a music video cliché. I don’t think Neuromancer is going to benefit from an overly clever directorial treatment because the story moves so fast. Cunningham might have been too much but his loss is still a blow to the movie. Anyway, all that milk has spilled already. Kahn has already been playing up the romance aspect of the story. THE ROMANCE. I didn’t even realize Neuromancer was a romance and I’ve read the book twice. Urrrrrrrrrr.

Actually keeping the structure of the book intact could be a good idea for the screenwriter and director. Movies such as Memento, Pulp Fiction, and Smoking Aces have structural similarities and work without problem.

Other than directorial excess my greatest fear is that the characters will be sacrificed to casting.

Molly- is the classic injured woman who isn’t going to take it anymore. There are hordes of beautiful athletic women in Hollywood who can act nowadays. Find somebody good and unfamiliar. Demi Moore in her G.I. Jane days is a good starting point. But the actress has to be able to portray Molly’s inner vulnerability or the whole thing is over. The romance with Case has to have Molly as the strong partner, it’s anything but a seduction.

Case- is no hero. Cast somebody interesting and vulnerable. Think a young Steve Buscemi or Dustin Hoffman. That Hayden Christianson was cast seems to indicate that this train has already gone off the tracks. You have to wonder what the script looks like if Christianson fit the bill of Case. Will Smith’s involvement in I, Bad Boy Robot was certainly telling. I guess this is going to be Neuromancer 90210.

Armatige- has to be tough but able to lose it at the end. Clint Eastwood would be great but it’s actually a nice part for any actor that wants a big reveal in the movie. Three words- no sylvester stallone.

Peter Riviera- is a classic Peter Lorrie part. Charming, decadent, slimy and sociopathic. You could go a dozen different ways with this but can’t be afraid of graphic drug use.

The Dixie Flatline- is the part Oliver Platt was born to play. Have him in the Elvis hairdo for the flashbacks.

Lady 3Jane- isn’t a really demanding role. Just be beautiful, icy, and very, very bored.

Hideo- is the ancient assassin retainer of the Tessier-Ashpool clan. I rebel against the idea of a young thin Kung-fu action hero playing this part. Why not a middle aged, overweight family butler type.

The supporting cast could be just as important as the main characters. Here is a perfect opportunity for some Altmanesque crowd scenes where snippets of conversation fill in lots of extraneous detail.

Of course all of this is just spitballing. There are a dozen ways to do it right and a million ways to screw it up. The choice of director and star isn’t encouraging because neither seems to fit the material. I fear that we’re going to get another Paycheck, where the story and setting are sacrificed and the result is just another mindless Hollywood chase-romance movie. Hope springs eternal- they finally got Batman right- but I think I’m going to go back and read the book again instead.

It’s a great book.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008


It looks like it’s true that Hayden Christianson is going to play Case in a Neuromancer film. Joseph Kahn will direct and the budget will be 70 million. I think that about says it all for people who love the book. Maybe someday Gibson will authorize a really killer graphic novel or 15 years later somebody will do it as a miniseries on SF channel and get it right like they did with Dune.

Do I sound cynical? I’m sure trying. I have every right to be cynical. I’ve watched too much of the best of SF eaten by Hollywood with the inevitable result that later happens when anything is eaten winding up on the screen. And this is low budget Hollywood, at least for this kind of film. The Matrix was made for 67 million almost 8 years ago. A low budget Neuromancer film with a director who’s greatest credit is Torque- a THE FAST AND THE FURIOUS knockoff. And a man playing Case who is unlike the character in almost every way.

And I’m being so nice I won’t even mention Christianson’s “acting”.

But to talk about how anybody could make a movie out of that book, first you have to look at the book.

Neuromancer is a study in style and structure. Stylistically it’s easy to say that it’s typical cyberpunk. What’s remarkable here is that it was one of the first cyberpunk novels and that it almost closed the genre by using every trick it would have to offer and using them to such effectiveness that it still stands as the high point in the genre. The novel has the hired assassins, the burnout hacker, the military nutball, corporate fascism, drug addiction, Cybernetic and biologic augmentation of humans, cyberspace (a word Gibson invented), Earth orbit resorts for the uber rich (with no real mention commerce or exploration beyond near solar system), Rastafarian's in space, covert cyberwar, mind experimentation, and it lays all these concepts on the reader with little or no explanation. Instead you are informed of situations through details in the environment and your picture forms by accretion. Gibson drops you into his world and it fills in from the smallest details up. Endless minutiae piled on as fast as the reader can assimilate it. Gibson himself has admitted that a lot of it is “a molecule deep” but it goes past you at such a clip that you barely have time to notice.

Structurally it’s origami that owes much of it’s impact to the way it folds back on itself. Each fold unfolds into a bit of vital information that Case and Molly discover. Each scene has a different shape and size to fit the pattern. . Each fold is gradually smaller as the story builds to it’s climax (which causes a natural acceleration of the action). And with the last fold and a little puff of air, it springs into it’s final shape. When you finally see the overall shape you understand everything that has happened before.

But none of this would work if it wasn’t for the writing itself. The verbs are taut, the nouns and adjectives are ubiquitous and unique. Again, the sub-genre’s penchant for inventing terminology is unrivaled in SF. There are as many invented nouns as familiar ones and the reader has nothing but context and onomatopoeia to help. In addition to unfamiliar vocabulary, the novel is also written in future slang. Again, immersing the reader in Gibson’s story. Earlier SF authors indulged in both these characteristics, Alfred Bester being the first that comes to mind. But not even Bester took it to this level.

Neuromancer was also weirdly prescient. The predictive value of science fiction has always been more mythical than actual. Isaac Asimov probably said it best when he mentioned once that while thousands of SF stories had predicted television and thousands more a moon landing, not one predicted people watching the first moon landing on television. In 1982, Gibson predicted a global interactive computer network where all information would be stored and where crimes would commonly take place. Nine years later Tim Berners-Lee would post to the alt.hypertext newsgroup with instructions for accessing the World Wide Web for the first time (An NEXT workstation was the original, and at the time only, web server). Gibson saw the developing hegemony of huge corporations, He predicted the commercialization of space at a time when the Space Shuttle was about to have it's first launch. (I wonder if Virgin Galactic will make it’s maiden voyage before the final Shuttle flight in 2010.) Of course, this was part of the whole cyberpunk idiom. It was a genre of SF that eschewed the traditional metaphors, favoring something that wasn’t projected so far into the future and commented more directly on trends already shaping. Seeing so much of the modern world in Gibson’s predictions, it isn’t hard to wonder how far away from that world we are.

So what about a movie?

Monday, February 4, 2008

SPORTS- Superbowl Surprise

Well the best season I can remember has ended with biggest Superbowl upset in the last several decades. The Patriot's perfect season foiled. Eli Manning vindicated. The unbeatable-beaten. Everybody thought the Patriots were a lock to win. Everybody thought the combined score would approach or exceed 50 points. The outcome was such a forgone conclusion that on INSIDE THE NFL last week Bob Costas picked NY to win for the self admitted reason that nobody else would.

What a game! What a year!

And records broken. Pats QB Tom Brady broke Payton Manning’s single season touchdown record. Randy Moss broke the season record for TD receptions. Brent Favre took records for Lifetime TDs, Lifetime Passing Yardage, Wins by a Starting QB, Most Career Pass Attempts, and Most Career Interceptions (oh well). He also added to totals for other records he currently holds, such as Consecutive Starts by a QB, Career Completions, Seasons with 3000 yards passing, Seasons with 300 completions, and seasons with 30 TD passes. Most of the Farvre’s new records came at the expense of Dan Marino and it was easy to see Marino’s reaction since it is now a league rule that Marino must appear on every highlight show made. Hard to imagine that the talk at the end of last season was that Favre was going to retire.

A new league record was set for kickoff and punt returns for touchdowns. (In large part due to Devin Hester for Chicago, who has returned 11 kickoffs and punts for touchdowns in his career. This puts him just behind Dante Hall and Erin Metcalf in the career standings. The difference is that it took Hall 104 games and Metcalf 179 games to reach that mark. Hester has done it in 32. He’s only been playing to two years!) Tony Gonzolez for Kansas City broke the record for the most career receptions for a Tight End with 820 (passing a personal favorite, Shannon Sharpe who had 815). The Cleveland Browns won 10 games (not a record but friggin’ incredible).

You’ve gotta love football.

And then the Patriots get one game away from a perfect season only to lose the Superbowl. Oh how the mighty have fallen. Isn’t hard to lay the blame for the Pat’s defeat at the door of Tom Brady, the golden boy. Sure it wasn’t his fault entirely. Had his offensive line kept him off his back he might not have wildly overthrown every long pass he attempted. OTOH, Manning was able to connect a few key long passes and even when his receivers didn’t come down with the bombs he threw it wasn’t because the passes weren’t on target. For that matter, the first half of the game saw several Manning short passes booted. The NE pass coverage was strong but once the NY pass corps settled they were able to start bringing those passes in and to everyone’s surprise, Manning’s passing game was the pivotal factor.

Unfortunately for New England the fall hasn’t hit the bottom yet. Belichick walked off the field before the end of the game! With one second on the clock it looked like he couldn’t stand to watch the Giants run the last play of the game. He marched onto the field, congratulated Coach Coughlin for the win, and ran for the locker room. Once the field was cleared, the game could finish. This morning the story is that Belichek didn’t realize the game wasn’t over. Seems improbable to me that the “greatest coach in the NFL” can’t read the clock. I know that it must have been unbelievable to him, it was to everybody watching at my house. Still it leaves a bad taste in my mouth that he wasn’t more gentlemanly about it. All that “being a good loser” stuff that you’re supposed to learn from sports.

And if that wasn’t enough, they still have Arlen Specter’s farcically inserting himself into the Signal-gate controversy from the beginning of the season. What a shame that Belichick would have sullied his near-perfect season at both ends. Caught cheating at the beginning, being a poor sport about losing at the end.

But that’s another thing sports is supposed to teach you.

Cheaters never prosper.

Sunday, February 3, 2008


Had to drop a line here on Superbowl Sunday though I feel like I’ve been trying to die for the last couple of weeks. Super Sunday kicks off a super week as Super Tuesday is only two days away. It’s been the best football season I can remember. And here we have the Giants playing the Patriots. The Patriots are trying to cap a perfect season and their fourth SB victory since 9-11. The Giants are returning for the first time since they won during the first Iraq War in 1990.

And Arlen Specter is thinking of sticking his nose into the signal stealing incident that started the season. Seems Mr. Spector doesn’t have the Gulianies to take the administration to task for the disappearance of the videotapes showing our government torturing people, so he’s decided to look into the disappearance of the tapes the Patriots made trying to steal other teams signals. He says NFL Commissioner Goodell’s statement about why he destroyed the tapes “doesn’t ring true” and he wants to meet with him. I don’t know if this is an example of the incredible ego of the ruling class or just another way the Republicans are trying to draw attention to anything other than their incredible incompetence and carpetbagging for the last eight years. Instead of protecting the constitution and country from a president or his own party that has thumbed his nose at checks and balances, Spector has decided to micromanage the NFL. And regarding missing videotapes! Wingnuts percieve irony like a dog staring at a Jackson Pollack painting.

No laws were violated, no one was injured, a friggin’ sports rule was broken. President Bush thinks he’s a king. Arlen Spector thinks he’s running football. The Republicans wonder why they won’t be winning this election. And the pundits wonder why everyone in the country thinks the government has become a malignancy.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Keith Olbermann is GROSS

So I’m watchin’ Keith Olbermann last night and he’s doing that special comment thing that he does. You know, that thing he does at the end of the show sometimes where he bitches about whatever the president is doing to screw up the country. So I’m watching this and he’s yelling and pausin’ dramatically and all that stuff and then he starts foaming at the mouth! These little flecks of foam form in the middle of his mouth. Then he gets this string of spittle from his top lip to his bottom lip right in the middle of this mouth. And this little string of spittle has a little globbit on the end of it-RIGHT THERE SMACK IN THE MIDDLE OF HIS LOWER LIP. And I’m thinking HEY. KEITH OLBERMAN. YOU’RE MAKING ME SICK! And I’m getting all nauseous and I can’t look at the screen. But when I look back to see if it’s gone IT’S STILL THERE. And by now I’m about to ralph! And he just keeps talking and this little ball of spit keeps waggling there on his bottom lip. It was GROSS.

It just goes to show you, it’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Either the president is screwing something up again, or Keith Olbermann loses he mind and starts foaming at the mouth right on camera.

posted by Sins of Memphisto contributor Roseanne Rosannadanna.

(we find no evidence of this at youtube resolution- the editors)