Saturday, January 31, 2009

Wars Not Make One Geek

Not a complicated day yesterday. I worked on my comic until around 6pm, then I went to Tim's where he and I figured out how to download Yoda for the Playstation 3 version of Soul Calibur 4--Yoda was a character previously only available to X-Box users. So now Darth Vader and Yoda can fight each other, which is chicken soup for the nerd soul.

Yoda seems to be immune to throw moves because he's so short. He bounds around and summersaults the way he does in the prequel movies, and he seems very happy. He looks almost as good as he does in those movies, too. In fact, all the Star Wars characters look better in Soul Calibur 4 than they do in any of the Star Wars games--and the Clone Wars cgi series, for that matter. Even The Apprentice, the character from Star Wars: The Force Unleashed who wields a lightsabre quite ridiculously like a tonfa, looks and fights better in Soul Calibur 4 than in his native game.

I haven't played The Force Unleashed, though, so maybe I shouldn't judge, except it looks like all of its best features are borrowed from Jedi Academy. And at least in that game you didn't have to hold your lightsabre backwards. Seriously, what the hell?

I actually quite liked the tenth episode of Battlestar Galactica's second season, which I watched last night. The tension between the crews of the Pegasus and the Galactica is by far one of the best things to happen on the show. Both sides are being motivated by feelings neither quite understands yet. This shit's gold. If they just forget about the Tomb of Athena and finding Earth, I totally won't mind. The only thing that could make it better would be Sean Bean guest starring. No-one does virtuous inner torment like Sean Bean.

I watch Battlestar Galactica while eating dinner, and I've been watching Revolutionary Girl Utena while eating breakfast. I watched the eighteenth episode of that series to-day, and like many good anime series, Utena starts off as something conforming to a lot of peoples' preconceptions of anime and then gets really fucking weird. I'm on a story arc now called "The Black Rose Duellists" which concerns some seemingly half dream-like story of 44 male students who killed themselves and people who are hypnotically drawn to the dormitory of the dead students when they have one-sided or somewhat perverse sexual designs on another character (so far it's been incest, misplaced jealousy, and a ten year-old's desire to have sex with a sixteen year old). The people going to the dormitory are shown sitting in an elevator going down and explaining their problems and desires like job applicants. They're given black rose rings which allow them to draw swords from the chests of their objects of desire, an action which all the characters rather unambiguously regard as sexual. And then, of course, they have to fight Utena. All this from a former director of Sailor Moon.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Only Pizza is Everywhere

Slept in late to-day, to 1pm. It couldn't be helped--last night was the first opportunity I'd had to do laundry in a week. With the extra hour of wakefulness, I played a little Daggerfall, predecessor to Morrowind and Oblivion, taking place in the same world and featuring many similarities in gameplay. Daggerfall gained some national attention when Joe Lieberman singled it out as one of his ten "least wanted video games" during his crusade to save the souls of gamers from 3D violence and the shameful sight of the naked human form.

It seems especially silly now with Daggerfall's crude, two-dimensional sprite characters and poor lighting effects. The only thing that came close to putting me into a homicidal rage was the difficulty of the first dungeon. Daggerfall, like the other Elder Scrolls games that succeeded it, was known for its open-endedness, allowing players to explore a vast and intricate world, in some ways larger than the later games, and allowing players to be any sort of person. You wouldn't know it from the first cave/fortress, from which you're required to escape, which has so far managed to kill me something like twelve million times with just rats and bats, except when I'm using a bruiser barbarian character. "No choice, huh?" as Deckard would say.

I went to Mission Valley Centre again for lunch yesterday. There seems to be a lot more languages spoken at that mall, and a wider variety of skin colours, than at most of the other malls around here. Trying to decide what to eat at the food court, I saw one place with no sign visible except one large, black and white one that read, "Pizza". I ordered an eight inch personal pizza from the Indian woman working there, and as I waited I looked at the menu and saw curry, rice, and a variety of other things under the heading of "Authentic Indian Cuisine". It didn't seem like the place got much business, so I guess the owner decided to fill the void left by the closing of the food court's only pizza place.

The pizza itself was that same, greasy, anonymous pizza you can get from most cheap little places.

I kind of liked the ninth episode of Battlestar Galactica's second season. I like the chief building a fighter from scratch, and Sharon helping out with the Cylon virus infecting the ship, though I still don't understand why they won't interrogate her. The interactions between the crew about the captive Cylon, though, were the first that felt genuine in a long time. I particularly liked the stuff about friends not knowing how to talk to one another knowing the others' closeness to the Cylon, and the difficulty people had acknowledging their own fond memories of Sharon. People not knowing how betrayed they ought to feel, and whether or not they should feel ashamed of feeling betrayed. Adama's behaviour with Sharon still doesn't make much sense, though.

I've noticed there's a Hierarchy of Wisdom, let's call it, on the show. That is, on any contested issue with only one correct interpretation, whether or not someone is right is invariably based on their rank in this hierarchy, and not upon any expressed rationalisation. The hierarchy, as far as I can figure, goes something like this;

1. Roslin
2. Starbuck
3. Commander Adama
4. Apollo

And Colonel Tigh is always wrong, except when he's talking to his wife, in which case she convinces him to take the incorrect action. Any time there's a breech in this hierarchy, I'm going to get excited. Which maybe is what the writers are going for.

I've noticed that Roslin is not only annoying, she really doesn't seem to do anything. The only things she's been responsible for all season were deciding to look for the Tomb of Athena, and telling Adama to find common ground with the Cylon captive. Which makes a whole lot of sense after she'd been willing to toss them all out into space before.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Falling Trees for the Falling Leaves

I sat down with hummus and pita at 6pm last night to watch the latest live Rifftrax performance--this time, Mike Nelson, Bill Corbett, and Kevin Murphy were watching an educational short from the 50s called "Overcoming Fear". A minute or so in was the first joke that made me laugh really hard--a woman standing by a pool was struck lightly by a volleyball in the stomach after which she fell helplessly into the water. Mike said something like, "Tragically, moments later, Janet's skull was crushed by a falling leaf."

I laughed, the video froze, the Rifftrax web site went down, the Rifftrax blog went down, and neither is back online even now. Even the banner ad I'd put on Venia's Travels isn't loading. I hope they resolve the problem soon. This seems to have been the most successful venture the MST3k guys have had since Sci-Fi Channel prematurely cancelled the series. I've been following most of their projects, too, particularly Mike's, as he was MST3k's head writer. There was their comedy magazine style web site, Timmy Big Hands, there were their various ventures under the guise of The Film Crew, there were books they published. But they really seem to have hit on something with Rifftrax. I was already kind of worried about it with the economy the way it is. It would really suck if they were killed by the bandwith problems caused by the larger audience they'd been actively seeking.

It already feels like all corners of the internet are becoming increasingly clogged by advertisements. Advertising really is a strange thing to me. Mostly they're obnoxious and useless, since people rarely go for something they weren't already looking for. But there's no other substantial way of funding entertainment media. There are donations, patronage, and grants, all of which are difficult to acquire even in the best of times and come with a social stigma; in a capitalist society with puritanical roots like this one, there seems to be a fundamental difficulty people have with acknowledging the value of anything that does not generate money. And, on the same token, things that generate a lot of money for no discernable reason automatically garner a great deal of respect, which is how we ended up with the successful perpetrators of Ponzi schemes, like Bernie Madoff, who are now being forced out of the woodwork by the bad economy.

The delusion goes so far that Madoff is even now only under house arrest, which means he enjoys the comforts of an expensive home and luxuries while people have lost their entire life savings and institutions have fallen thanks to this guy. But it would be unthinkable to put anyone so respected in the community in prison immediately. Just because he'd come by his money illegally and to the harm of many, why shouldn't he be allowed to post bail with it?

Doing research for my comic recently, I read about how inefficient the manorial system of the Middle Ages actually was, maintaining year around tenant villein labour for the aristocracy rather than hiring labour for specific jobs when needed. Apparently no-one saw the inefficiency for so long because the people in charge were getting along well enough. It makes me wonder if there's a better way for people to live and work to-day that just hasn't been seen yet because of capitalist delusions of the wealthy. I heard about one agent on Howard Stern who chose not to invest with Madoff and thereby saved his client's assets. Madoff had just looked too good to be true to him, and the lack of transparency in Madoff's operations for his investors had seemed suspicious. But I don't think I could call the people who did invest with Madoff suckers--to not have been taken in by Madoff would seem to have been something like moving against what has been widely deemed the natural order of the universe.

Last night I watched the eighth episode of Battlestar Galactica's second season, which wasn't nearly as bad as the previous episode, but not great either. But I've never really liked the "showing the familiar characters through the perspective of a television reporter" style episode in any series. They always feel a little stilted to me--it seems like there's a conceit that the format will make things seem more "real", but the artifice of the setup actually has the complete opposite effect for me. I've noticed they're not only avoiding old Sharon's autopsy, they've also decided to avoid interrogating the new Sharon. Am I crazy for wanting to know what she could have to say about the Cylons' plans? Am I not supposed to care about that?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

We Can Do Better

The seventh episode of Battlestar Galactica's second season was sort of aggressively stupid. I was actually considering not watching the show anymore except by the end I realised the silliness was because the writers wanted to end the current story arc now, quickly, by any means possible.

But stupid, you say? Stupid how? Well, stupid is Baltar freaking out because his dream Cylon suggested she wasn't really a chip in his head, not seeing the danger of actually letting the ship's doctor find a chip if there was one, assuming it was impossible for Cylon technology to go undetected in his body by the Galactica's instruments, and not finding out about Sharon's pregnancy until he overheard her and Helo talking about it. Stupid was Starbuck continuing to trust Sharon more than most anyone and justifying it by saying that Helo's in love, even knowing that was exactly the Cylon plan, and even after chewing Helo out for it even before she was captured and mindfrelled by the Cylons on Caprica.

Stupid was Adama attacking the new Sharon after the compassion he displayed for the dead Sharon. Stupid was still no autopsy report on old Sharon. Stupid was Scrooge McDonnell's the president's aristocratic holiday safari on a planet the Cylons know about, but even more stupid was Adama coming down to the surface with a couple other guys because the scriptures said something about being on Kobol extracting a price in blood. I thought he didn't believe the religious crap? Now, I thought it was actually kind of cool Adama was big enough to make up with Roslin and Apollo and Starbuck. I can count on one hand, without using all the fingers, the amount of times I've actually seen that happen in real life, and I'd like to believe people are capable of doing it. But, when you're in charge of the entire human race which is on the brink of extinction and you know there's no-one more qualified to take over for you if you should die, you can wait until after the president's done with her expedition to the Tomb of Athena. Or at least take some marines with you, for fuck's sake--and it's worth noting Adama didn't pay a price in blood. Those looking for an example of someone going to great lengths to mend a rift with a loved one would be better off watching David Lynch's The Straight Story.

Stupid was also, of course, the episode turning into Hercules: The Legendary Journeys at the end, but that stupid was a long time coming, so I'd sort of made peace with it.

Why isn't anyone wondering if Helo and Starbuck came back as Cylons? What was Billy doing while he and the president were separated, and will we ever learn why he wasted time getting a haircut while the president was under arrest?

Speaking of curious haircuts, my sister and I watched Rachel Maddow's interview with Rob Blagojevich last night. It almost seems like it can't be a toupee because it's too obvious. Maybe there's something on his forehead. Actually, picturing him with his hair back and a little pair of wire rim glasses, I think he'd look remarkably like Alberto Gonzales. Now, wouldn't that be interesting?

I am in awe of Rachel Maddow. I think she is, by far, the best newsperson on television. She always keeps her cool, but doesn't come off like a marshmallow the way Wolf Blitzer does. She asks tough questions, but doesn't get red in the face for it like 90% of the anchors on cable news. She's intelligent, and she's fucking quick--she stays with Blagojevich through every asteroid he tries to fly loops around to avoid her. Here's a woman who successfully navigates an asteroid field, lets all the TIE Fighters blow themselves up, all while knowing the odds. I approve.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Last night I bought a jar of Francis Ford Coppola's Mammarella brand puttanesca sauce. On the back of the jar, there's this message bearing the signature of Coppola himself;

This is of course named after the "ladies of the night" (puttane) who originated this sauce. At first, I was reluctant to put the picture of my mom at the innocent age of 17 on the same label with this name, but I like it so much I'm sure she won't mind.

I guess things have gotten ugly in the world of celebrity pasta sauce since Paul Newman died. It is incredibly good sauce, though.

Coppola seems to have become quite the diversified entrepreneur. I'm rather curious about those short story collections with stories by Tom Waits and Woody Allen.

My sister and I were supposed to go to Disneyland to-day, but unforeseen circumstances required postponement. Last night, she and I watched Duck Soup, a gripping and unrelentingly brutal depiction of warfare in the early twentieth century. Or perhaps not.

To-day's Lewis Carroll's birthday. Some might point to Duck Soup and Carroll's work as evidence that my idea about "credibility" in storytelling has no weight. On the contrary, both works support my idea. In the case of The Marx Brothers, the credibility I'm referring to comes from the central players maintaining fidelity to their characters even at the sacrifice of traditional verisimilitude. When Groucho slides down a pole during the ball at the beginning and joins the ranks of saluting soldiers with his cigar, there are a million different things that don't make sense, but all of it serves to display and enhance Groucho's character. Again, letting the audience in on the fun.

As for Alice's Adventures in Wonderland, we have a world that's consistently nonsense, and Alice's character, more importantly, is consistent. The contrast between her consistency and the world's strangeness is actually a perfect illustration of the balance between credibility and surprise I was talking about.

I watched the sixth episode of Battlestar Galactica's second season last night. I didn't like it nearly as much as the previous episode, but it wasn't all bad. I was disappointed to see that apparently Starbuck does actually seem to trust Sharon, at least more than Apollo does. I don't quite understand why no-one's commented on the autopsy of the Sharon that died--I seem to remember it looked as though her corpse had been opened up already at the time Adama was looking at her. Shouldn't someone say something about how their insides are either indistinguishable from humans or are strikingly different, and in what way? I guess they can't simply be clones if they have trouble breeding with humans, though the Sharons don't seem to have the super strength and speed the tall blonde ones have. This is, after all, the first human looking Cylon body the humans have had at their disposal since the president had the brilliant idea of shooting the last one out the air lock.

I feel sort of bad for the actor playing Helo. He must have had to decide his own motivation on a lot of things, always under the threat that a later episode would contradict his decisions when some writer finally got around to talking about how he felt about the arrow and Kobol and the differences between the president's faction and Adama's faction.

Swell Romance

Happy Birthday, Jerome Kern.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Crossing that River in Style

I want to expand on something I said yesterday--when I say the key to good storytelling might be finding a balance between surprising and credible, by credible I don't mean the things in the story have to conform to modern humanity's scientific knowledge, or even be remotely realistic. What I mean is a narrative that includes the audience in its fun.

One thing Spielberg's particularly good at, when he's on his game, is thinking along with his audience. A moment in Back to the Future that seemed more Spielberg than Zemeckis to me is a bit near the end--after Marty's been freed from the trunk of the band's car, the guitarist says they can't go on with the show . . . unless Marty knows someone who can play guitar. Some directors might waste time having Marty say, "Hey! I can play guitar!" Instead, after the guitarist poses the question, we immediately cut to Marty playing guitar for them. Because it occurs to us at exactly the same moment that we already know Marty can play guitar.

Zemeckis, as a rule, isn't as good at this, and I can point to his recent film, Beowulf, for several examples. One thing that particularly bothered me was when Grendel attacked the mead hall, he flung open the doors . . . and then waited a long time out of sight before entering. What was he doing in that time? Based on Grendel's mannerisms and personality, it doesn't make sense for him to step around to the other side of the door and wait around for dramatic effect. It does, however, seem like something someone making a movie would do. It's a moment that makes us think of the director's personality more than the personalities of the characters, because it's not credible within the story, it's only credible as a filmmaking device, which does a lot to dispel suspension of disbelief.

But because we know and have (hopefully) enjoyed Marty McFly as an aspiring guitarist, we feel like we're continuing with the story of a character we know and like, and since the cut moves at the speed of our conscious thought, the tools we use to perceive the world are exploited for the purpose of communicating the story, rather than asking us to perceive the plot as something exterior to our senses. I think this is why post-modernism is often used as a crutch by lousy filmmakers.

I watched the fifth episode of Battlestar Galactica's second season last night, and it might be my favourite episode so far. After the Cylon in the first episode broke a baby's neck, it seems like the writers for the second season said to themselves, "Hey, the thing with the baby was pretty fucking hardcore! Let's do more things to babies." But they did well by their flights of infanticidal fancy.

I was impressed with how the Cylon posing as a doctor actually pulled off some insightful psychoanalysis of Starbuck, and used it to hurt her. That sort of thing does a lot more to make them seem dangerous than a million cgi robots with machine gun hands. That, and Starbuck's experience with the baby farm, sets up all kinds of nice possibilities. How can Starbuck ever trust Sharon after the experience? However obstinate Starbuck is with her from now on, we can't see Starbuck as being unreasonable for it. And after killing all those people for being part of the farm, how can she allow herself to accept Sharon's pregnancy as a good thing? Even if there isn't anything wrong with it? Gods, I hope the show explores these possibilities.

Adama's compassion towards Boomer was nice. But one thing that kind of bugs me is that I don't really know if he's being unreasonable or not when he dismisses Roslin's message to the fleet as "religious crap". Obviously there are people right there on Galactica who are extremely religious, and yet the society had seemed largely secular for much of the beginning of the series. Seemed secular, I say--it's fair to say that this religious fervour may simply have been off-screen all this time. But this creates a problem when we're not sure how to feel about Adama's reaction, or the colonel's when he expected the quorum to think the president was crazy for declaring herself a prophesied hero. Because now I'm not sure if Adama had no reason to expect a third of the fleet to go with the president, or if he was irrationally clinging to a false impression of human society.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Rooms Mean Buildings

I guess still on the nostalgia kick, I watched Back to the Future last night. Back to the Future was a solidly ingrained part of my high school experience because there was a copy of it in permanent residence in the school VCR that got passed from room to room. It was great when a teacher tried to tie the movie into the class subject somehow. One can kind of see flimsy, logical justifications for it being shown in Science, History, or English classes.

Anyway, along with Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, it remains Robert Zemeckis' best work, and I think it's no coincidence Steven Spielberg produced both movies. There were so many moments in the movie last night that felt more like Spielberg than Zemeckis, mostly in the use of close-ups, but also in the narrative structure, which may also simply have been a result of most every major action or adventure film in the 80s having been influenced by Spielberg and Lucas.

But it really works in this case, particularly one device which I've always liked that devotes a large portion of the beginning of the film to developing the characters and world by putting them through a story somewhat separate from the main plot, but which subtly introduces bits that are echoed later for great payoffs. Gremlins, another movie produced by Spielberg at around the same time, is closest to Back to the Future's use of this device, in which familiar people and places are established in the preliminary act, only to reappear in a sort of parodied or deranged form after the dramatic, strange event that sets the protagonist's principle conflicts in motion. This serves Spielberg's persistent desire to make use of every moment of film for entertainment purposes, it helps enrich the setting, and it also provides a bit of smoke and mirrors--to distract you from the hero's main conflict so that when something else develops based on his own already established character, its both surprising and credible. Sometimes I think that's the key to good storytelling--finding the balance between surprising and credible.

I'm now four episodes into Battlestar Galactica's second season. I don't think there's anything remotely wrong with the use of the world and characters as a metaphor for the Bush administration and modern Islamic terrorism. But I can't get excited about it for some reason. Well, I've never particularly liked allegory. But it's not like the makers of the show are doing anything wrong--I like how the colonel isn't entirely unlikeable even as he's a complete irresponsible blowhard.

I think what I don't like about Roslin is that I feel like she's supposed to be completely likeable. Every other character feels like he or she was designed to be fallible. Roslin seems like nothing she does is meant to be a mistake, even when she does crazy bullshit. I was sort of glad that her aide, Billy, couldn't get behind it.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Horizon Line

Last night I watched Ingmar Bergman's Winter Light (Nattvardsgasterna), the second in the trilogy that began with Through a Glass Darkly. I didn't find it quite as utterly amazing as Through a Glass Darkly, but it was by no means a bad movie.

Both of these movies have been like hypothetical situations posed by philosophical essays in order to illustrate conflicts inherent to human thought and belief, except with beautiful visuals and incredible performances delivering these essays in a seamlessly credible, human fashion. Winter Light's argument concerns an idea with which the previous film concluded, that people need something to believe in to proceed through life without being overwhelmed by fear. Winter Light introduces a pastor who feels trapped by having something to believe in, and it seems to him that to escape his belief in God would grant him freedom.

The pastor, Tomas, associates his conception of God with immaturity, a benevolent being easy to believe in until he was confronted with the brutal reality of the Spanish civil war. Now he's stifled by a life forcing him through ritualistic motions for a deity whose supposed nature is inconsistent with the reality he knows. Over time, his meagre faith has atrophied his ability to empathise with anyone, leading him to feel dead.

The last portion of the film is the counterargument, and it's simply that human beings require love, love cannot be given without courage, and such courage cannot be mustered without some kind of foundation. An environment must exist where one does not feel that allowing oneself to love another is a hazardous venturing of one's entire being. Tomas may have found freedom from his juvenile faith, but the end of the movie sees him profoundly frightened and utterly at a loss as to how to proceed through the life he now has since he's found there's more to it than feeling dead.

The last movie in the trilogy is Silence, and I wonder if it shall in some way question the necessity of love. I look forward to watching it, and I hope it won't be another two weeks before I have time to.

Yesterday I went to Mission Valley Centre mall in the hopes of killing three birds with one stone. I told Arina I'd mail her a bunch of anime, so, since Mission Valley Centre has both a post office and a Target, I'd be able to get both a decent box for the job and some CD jewel cases. Then I'd sit down in the nearby Starbucks and work on the script for Chapter 18. Well, first the post office was out of boxes, then the Target didn't have any suitable jewel cases, and finally I found I'd forgotten my notebook.

So a large portion of the day was spent finding other things to do at that mall--somehow its video game arcade had reopened and I played Soul Calibur III for a little while, beating it rather quickly. I felt impressed with myself until I saw that my time didn't even appear in the standings, which were dominated by people who'd beaten the game in under five minutes, mostly using Kilik and Mitsurugi, as most guys are too homophobic to let other guys see them using female characters.

Then I got some vegetarian soba from the Japanese place and sat for a couple hours reading. Not a bad day, but everything I meant to do yesterday still needs doing . . .

Friday, January 23, 2009

But Gentlemen Prefer Fuck All

The Oscar nominations have been announced. This is the first year I can remember since I was a kid that I haven't seen any of the movies nominated for Best Picture. Not only that, but all the nominees are movies I have no particular desire to see, with the possible exception of Milk. The absence of The Dark Knight would be more astonishing if I didn't already know how witless the Oscars were. I mean, actually, I did expect The Dark Knight to be nominated, so I am technically surprised. But not enormously surprised.

Comparing The Dark Knight with the nominees highlights the ridiculousness of the situation. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button not only did not perform terrifically well in the box office, it currently only has a 74 percent on Rotten Tomatoes. Whatever you might think of The Dark Knight, it meets the all of the most objective criteria available for being nominated far better than Benjamin Button does.

Ron Howard's Frost/Nixon on the list is surely a bigger joke, but one hallowed by time, since the Academy has already swallowed Howard's average skills, and everyone already knows that the actual Frost/Nixon interviews are interesting. Howard has tenure and he's chosen safe material.

Heaven forbid the Academy make a decision without political consideration. Sure, Brokeback Mountain's a better and more culturally significant film than Crash, a film I sincerely doubt anyone's been in the mood to watch again in the past couple years. But Crash fed more of the baby bird ego mouths stretched open and waiting for the worms of acknowledgement. I almost think the Academy recoils when they sense a group of filmmakers is more interested in crafting a good movie than they are in being acknowledged. And, you know, maybe that's even how it ought to be. I suppose I wish it could be more honest somehow, but I suppose shattering the illusion would render the thing pointless for everyone.

But why should I watch it this year with fucking Hugh Jackman hosting? Fucking Huge Jack, man. I liked him well enough as Wolverine and in The Prestige, but he's no host. He doesn't even give interesting interviews.

He's probably going to sing, too. Fucker.

So far I'm liking the second season of Battlestar Galactica a lot better than the first season. I feel like we still haven't had much opportunity to see Starbuck actually being a fighter pilot as we ought to have had. It seems like they keep giving her odd jobs. I liked seeing her apartment and all, and now there's a new reason for me to feel sorry that the Caprica segments are always so short. Before it was more of a feeling of urgency; "Get on with it! You two only have, what, four minutes?! Develop something, damnit!"

But I love how we're apparently skipping over the part where Starbuck explains to Helo just what the frak she's doing on Caprica. What would that conversation have been like?

HELO: "The Cylon fooled me! What do you want me to say? I'm an idiot, are you happy now?"

STARBUCK: "You are a frakking idiot, Helo, I'm glad you understand that."

HELO: "So, uh, what brings you back to Caprica? And what's with the arrow?"

STARBUCK: "Um. Well. You see, the, uh, President--the new President, Roslin, former minister of education or something--had, like a dream. And, uh, she's like a messiah or something and she saw this arrow and so I, er, thought I'd just, you know, steal a captured Cylon fighter and come here and get it instead of using the fighter to rescue some of our crewmates on the recently discovered, inhabitable planet Kobol. You know, from the scriptures . . ."

HELO: "Frakking hell. You're another Cylon, aren't you? How frakking dumb do you toasters think I am?!"

It's amazing--Roslin just gets more and more annoying. When she was standing over the comatose Commander Adama and said to Apollo something like, "You know you're father's going to be okay, right?" I so wanted Apollo to say something like, "You'd know wouldn't you, you frakking genius? The one who forced him into all but staging a coup when you started ordering people to do frakking crazy shit. How the frak did you think he'd react? You frakking caused this you frakking twit."

But I'm enjoying the show. Really, I swear!

Remember, new Venia's Travels to-day. Feel free to gripe to me about logical inconsistencies.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Venia and Oddly Timed Flattery

A new Venia's Travels is online, a little early. I've only begun teaching you squirts about cereal crops.

The Solution is Only Mostly Unattainable

Hangover seems mostly gone to-day. Some scrambled eggs at Denny's did seem to help.

I seem to have been on another nostalgia kick over the past several days. A couple days ago, I installed and played a bit of Space Quest 3, a game that devoured many hours of my youth with gameplay of not exactly magnificent quality.

I used to play it on a computer with a 286 processor and a cga monitor. It seemed incredible to find, when I installed it a couple days ago, that the entire game is no more than two megabytes. I think one of the reasons it seemed so massive was its text parser gameplay, which, in retrospect, is pretty silly. Sure, in theory it sounds like a more interactive experience to simply be able to type in commands for your character in simple English. But this was inevitably limited by the scope of the programmers' imaginations and the time and resources they had available to them. As I recall, it took more than a year for me and some other kids to figure out the specific thread of activities the player character was supposed to follow. It must have taken an extremely long time for the writers to plot as many of the different possible commands a player inputs, too, in the futile hopes of creating an open ended experience.

To give you an example, in one screen your character walks in a tube past of bunch of wires. There's no immediate indication that the wires have any more significance than the rest of the random debris and mechanical junk in the garbage vessel in which you begin the game. If you get it into your head for some reason to try taking the wires, if your character is not standing directly next to the wires, typing "Get wires" or "Take wires" merely results in the game reporting back to you something like, "There are no suitable wires nearby to take."

The wires, of course, end up being vital to your progress in the game, as you need them to repair a small ship in order to escape the garbage vessel. Naturally, you can't pick up wires you're not standing right next to, and naturally "Get wires" would certainly not imply taking a few steps towards the wires in order to take them. Right?

But, for some reason, I continued playing the game for years in the early 90s. And I remember all the steps one needs to take in order to get past the first scene, in much the way Guy Pearce's character remembered things in Memento; repetition. When you've actually taken the time to find a needle in a haystack, you remember damn well where it was you eventually found that needle. For good or ill, the path to defeating the Pirate of Pestulon is hardwired into my brain.

I watched the second season premiere of Battlestar Galactica last night. I loved how the tension never let up--I liked the gun battle on Kobol, and I really loved the space battle, especially when there were so many dogfights at the Galactica's 11 o'clock that the big ship was almost totalled obscured by the multitude of small explosions. I found myself wishing people were a little more patient with the Sharon clones. I know everyone's supposed to be profoundly angry at the Cylons for destroying the human race, but is it so much to ask for someone to keep their head? I would enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

What's Your Egg?

I am currently about fifteen hours into the worst hangover I've ever had. I actually don't normally get any sort of hangovers beyond a mild stomach ache. But yesterday, my mother was throwing an inauguration party and I made martinis in enormous glasses with the wonderful Bombay Sapphire gin. And I'd determined the last one I'd made on Saturday had just had a bit too much vermouth to compliment such a fine, fine gin.

I became sensationally sloshed. My sister and I watched a couple episodes of the Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes series, including one of my favourites from the second season, "The Musgrave Ritual", and I remember explaining to my sister about how, "Oliver Cromwell executed Charles I and he wasn't a king but a puritan and they hated decadence and stuff and then in 1776 there was democracy and Barrack Obama became president."

I felt like I was on a unicycle when I walked home. It wasn't until I'd finished my dinner of cous cous and the season one finale of Battlestar Galactica that I began to feel The Effects.

I thought for sure I was going to throw up, but I didn't. I sort of wished I would--I felt like that would get me past a certain stage and on the road to wellness. My head was hurting too, even after lots of green tea, chai tea, and water. Or maybe that all made it worse.

I'd really like to try a prairie oyster, though I sincerely doubt I could break open an egg without breaking the yolk. I wonder about what an artist's relationship with eggs says about him or her. Paul McCartney was on Howard Stern last week and he mentioned how he couldn't go vegan because he loved scrambled eggs. And I remembered his original title for "Yesterday" was "Scrambled Eggs".

Meanwhile, in the DVD commentary for To Catch a Thief, Peter Bogdanovich talked about how Alfred Hitchcock found eggs to be disgusting while, on screen, Jessie Royce Landis, the mother character in the film, stabbed some sunny side up eggs with a cigarette. I see Paul McCartney's mother was a midwife--I'm wondering if fondness for eggs is related to someone's relationship with his or her mother. I wonder what Hitchcock would make of Eve from Wall-E.

I liked the season one finale of Battlestar Galactica okay. I was seriously pondering the recap at the beginning of the first half of the two parter, though. I've noticed a lot of shows tend to loop in extra dialogue into their recaps for the sake of better efficiency, but I found myself questioning a particular piece of added dialogue, which had Sharon telling Helo directly that she's a Cylon. This helps somewhat to clarify why Helo seemed so certain she was one in the previous episode when he saw another Sharon Cylon model. Why didn't he consider the possibility that the Sharon he was with was a "real" Sharon that the Cylons had cloned?

Of course, some problems arise when one considers how unlikely it is that Sharon would simply tell Helo plainly at that time that she was a Cylon. And also one must consider the possibility of these episodes being watched without their recaps. It can't be done in this circumstance, which means the recaps are actually part of the episode . . .

You know what, my head hurts. I will work on my comic now.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The Virtue and Danger in Belief

"To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society's ills on the West: Know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy."

That was my favourite part of President Obama's inauguration speech. It seems lately a lot of people have been making the point that terrorism is ultimately useless because the people using it have no real drive to create a better world for people. It's the application of bloodlust under the guise of a righteous philosophy of God. Which is of course the inherent danger of taking unsubstantiated dogma as a great truth. Nothing will come from nothing.

But the most important parts of Obama's speech were those calling for the sacrifice of habit and comfort from the American people in order to meet practical ends. Politicians call for that sort of thing all the time, but Obama's charisma and popularity is such that I could feel the crowd listening was actually willing to follow through. And there's such a backlash now against the "I got mine, Jack" ideology. If we want any hope of doing anything about global warming, we're going to need a more socialist country. The idea of everyone pursing their own selfish needs leading magically somehow to the greater good is simply not good enough for the climate crisis.

Now I'll supply our national moment of divisiveness. About a week ago, a guy I know named Franklin posted about sending an e-mail in reply to The New York Review of Books' automated subscription solicitation. Franklin posts everything under LJ's "friends lock", so I'll refrain from quoting him directly, but he quoted an e-mail he sent to The New York Review of Books in reply to the solicitation wherein he said he could not subscribe to their publication because they were proud of publishing this essay by Paul Krugman which Franklin felt grossly misrepresented the work and character of Milton Friedman.

I was rather surprised Franklin would take the time to complain to someone who probably wasn't going to care about something only people who were already relatively versed on the subject enough to gauge its veracity on their own would care about, especially in light of Franklin's continued support for Ron Paul's presidential candidacy after it was discovered that Ron Paul had published a number of extremely racist newsletters. So I replied to Franklin's post with something like (I forget my exact words), "Dude, are you kidding? Aren't you the one who still liked Ron Paul after it was found out he'd published a bunch of racist newsletters?"

A few days passed and Franklin didn't reply, which didn't seem like a very big deal to me because Franklin's never actually won an argument with me. He has a tendency to make unsubstantiated proclamations and then clams up when it's been made clear to him that he actually has no evidence to back up his statements. I just thought I'd gotten to the clamming up part early, and Franklin was too embarrassed to say anything. But after a couple days, it occurred to me that LJ may have simply failed to send me the e-mail notification of his reply, as it sometimes does, and maybe Franklin had said something and I was being rude by seeming to ignore him. So I went back and checked his post to discover he'd simply deleted my comment.

I have to say, I mainly found this rather funny. Apparently he couldn't take even that tiny chip in his ego. But I wonder what Franklin told himself as to why he was deleting the comment. Was I being outrageously inflammatory? It's not like Ron Paul has denied publishing the newsletters. Here he is talking to Wolf Blitzer about it. One might say that an important distinction here is that Ron Paul apologised for the newsletters while The New York Review of Books is proud of Paul Krugman's essay on Milton Friedman's occasional intellectual dishonesty. To which I'd reply it took years for Ron Paul to apologise for the newsletters, and then only when it was a political liability, which most people would recognise as bullshit.

I think Franklin, among a lot of other people, still has his heart with Ron Paul for some reason. But on the other hand, the fact that Franklin sent an e-mail to a publication in rebuke to their advertisement which would naturally mention a contribution from a recent Nobel Prize winner as an incentive for people to subscribe, seems a little cartoonish. I've sincerely been wondering lately; is Franklin doing shtick? Is he like a Stephen Colbert? If so, I do feel a little silly for taking him seriously for so long, but I guess I'm not perfect. Because I still don't actually know if he's doing shtick or not.

I feel like I ought to have mentioned Edgar Allen Poe's two hundredth birthday yesterday. A couple weeks ago, I was actually looking like mad for my Complete Works of Edgar Allen Poe. It's amazing such a massive, hardback book could just disappear like that.

Housekeeping Hamster

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Consuming Fire

There are some evil bastards at La Salsa. I walked there to-day, mainly because I wanted some exercise and an excuse to enjoy the day time, and had one of their nice "California" burritos that contains avocadoes and rice and various other veggies. Their hottest salsa is the hottest thing I can ever remember having, though I suspect it may be due to my palate having been scorched bare by years of experiments with hot sauces and Thai food. Nothing gets me like this stuff at La Salsa though--I'm not sure what it is, but it looks sort of like tomato soup with limp bay leaves floating in it, though it's definitely not tomato soup and the leaves definitely aren't bay.

I finished my burrito and, without thinking about it, I starting dipping my tortilla chips in the concoction. Before long, my nose was running, my tongue felt like it had third degree burns, and my eyes were tearing up. And they'd locked up the bathroom for the night.

No exaggeration--tears were running down my cheeks as I stumbled outside. A woman in her truck saw me and I must have looked like I'd just seen the murder of my child.

It's a testament to the phoney friendliness of the Starbucks baristas that, though she did identify me by name and say, "Haven't seen you in a while!" she completely failed to notice my state as I asked for the bathroom token and completely failed to register my reply of, "Yeah, hi, how are you?"

I seem to be back in the habit of going out for lunch. Yesterday I drove to Parkway Plaza mall for a burrito. I'd intended to go only for lunch, but since I'd parked on the other side of the mall to sneak in exercise walking to the Mexican place, I walked past the Suncoast movie store and saw it was going out of business--all DVDs 50% off. This was Sunday, so the mall was closing early--it was only twenty minutes away from the store closing for good, so naturally there wasn't much left. Nonetheless, I did manage to score a copy of the original 1932 Scarface (which I actually consider to be far superior to the Brian De Palma remake), Anthony Mann's The Naked Spur (which was my favourite among the Mann directed James Stewart westerns Robyn Massachusetts had recommended to me a few years ago), and David Lynch's The Straight Story, so my Lynch collection now only lacks The Elephant Man.

It all came to around thirty dollars. I probably only spent about five dollars less than I would have if I'd bought the movies at Fry's at regular price, but therein lies the reason for Suncoast going out of business, of course. That, and the fact that just about everyone downloads things now. I noticed most of the remaining DVDs were porn. Naturally, anyone who could conceivably afford to spend forty dollars on some lousy vid of oddly proportioned women with orange tans and frizzy blond hair would have a vast and varied library of porn available for free online.

Also at Parkway Plaza on Sunday, I saw that a magic shop had opened up. Mostly the store was gags and games, but there were trick ropes and rings and books about magic. In the back a table was set up where one of the proprietors demonstrated tricks on request. A matronly woman with glasses was leaning tiredly back behind the counter while a couple kids gaped in front of her. She was telling someone, "The first time you do a trick, people want to see it, the second time they're trying to see how it works. Believe me, I've been doing magic for thirty years." One of the kids suddenly released a big blue snake from a can and the woman said, "Now, don't try and tell me you didn't know that was going to happen. And watch your language, I already heard you cussing over there." I felt like I'd stumbled on a scene that had been replayed with slight variations in magic shops over the past hundred fifty years.

On Saturday night, I had a martini for the first time in about a half a year. I made it with Bombay Sapphire gin, which is ridiculously smooth for something that's 94 proof. I had garlic stuffed olives in it, which were good, though I think I still prefer jalapeno stuffed. I can't believe two olives have 11% of the daily recommended amount of sodium. I looked at all the different brands, too, and there didn't seem to be any with substantially less.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Battlestar Criteria

This morning, St. Sisyphus pointed out to me that I'm making season 1 of Battlestar Galactica sound kind of lousy, though he remembered enjoying it. To him I replied;

Well, I'm mainly enjoying the series, too. I wouldn't be griping as much if I didn't--I'd have quit watching already. For the most part, it's unpredictable and the characters are consistent, but this makes the problem areas stick out more for me. It's a matter of perspective, too. I just watched Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly, which is essentially flawless, and even the best television series is going to have trouble shining next to it. It's like when I was editor on the college literary magazine--there was a fantasy story the other editors and I were looking at, and I was the only one championing it. I realised it was because I was the only one who liked fantasy among them--everyone else would gladly vote for any average narcissistic story about a bad breakup or something. I finally said to the guy speaking most strongly against the fantasy story, "Look, I know it's not good, but we've never had anything better." Of course, thinking rationally, one realises how unlikely it is that someone at a community college is going to produce anything even passable. Likewise, the odds of even the best major television series being more than 40 percent good are very slim. I think it's important to keep that perspective because life gets depressing when you learn to settle for 40%. Also, snarking is fun.

I'd actually been sort of pondering the fact that I was dumping so much on a series I actually enjoy. Is this some kind of psychological issue? Am I jealous I'm not making Battlestar Galactica? I don't really think so. I think the show simply happens to be flawed, as most shows are, and it's fun pointing those flaws out. If Battlestar Galactica were a struggling little series instead of something that's enormously popular, I'd probably be emphasising its positive aspects a lot more. It's largely why I don't gripe about my favourite anime series so much, even though most of them are about as flawed as Battlestar Galactica--I don't think as many of my readers have seen those series as have seen Battlestar Galactica, so I tend to concentrate on their positive aspects a little more.

I was reminded of a popular quote from the movie Ratatouille. A food critic named Anton Ego has this speech near the end of the movie;

In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little, yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so. But there are times when a critic truly risks something, and that is in the discovery and defense of the new. The world is often unkind to new talents, new creations. The new needs friends. Last night, I experienced something new; an extraordinary meal from a singularly unexpected source. To say that both the meal and its maker have challenged my preconceptions about fine cooking, is a gross understatement. They have rocked me to my core. In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto, "Anyone can cook". But I realize - only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere. It is difficult to imagine more humble origins than those of the genius now cooking at Gusteau's, who is, in this critic's opinion, nothing less than the finest chef in France. I will be returning to Gusteau's soon, hungry for more.

There's a kind of pretty melodrama to this statement, but I've always enjoyed it for the wrong reasons. First of all, I've never seen Ratatouille, though I mean to see it at some point because I loved Wall-E (which was made by the same people) and a lot of my friends seem to love Ratatouille. But it's sort of ironic, I think, that this critic's statement has already made more of an impression on me than the movie itself.

It seems rather obviously to be more of the screenwriter's rumination on critics who've effected his work rather than on food critics--I mean, is the word "meaningful" really applicable to food? And there are a couple fallacies in the statement. Negative criticism is not invariably less meaningful than bad art. I think there are movies on Mystery Science Theatre 3000 you'd have to be brain damaged to enjoy without the commentary. And Mystery Science Theatre 3000 is likely to endure far longer than the films the show riffs on did as stand alone entities.

But even in the case of traditional critics, I seriously doubt the original cut of Vincent Gallo's The Brown Bunny will ever be as interesting as Roger Ebert's original review of it. I frequently remember the snark far longer than a movie, particularly when a critic decides to hold forth on artistic theory in the process--much as the fictional critic in Ratatouille does.

Neil Gaiman, in his blog recently, said, "You bring yourself to a book, after all; every book is collaborative." Which I think is true, and true of any artform. To an extent, I think it's of any thing. I think it's possible to really dig a specific tree. I personally distinguish artwork as being that which is crafted with some intent of provoking a specific reaction from a viewer/reader/audience/listener. On that basis, I'd actually characterise criticism as an artform.

Last night, I watched the tenth episode of Battlestar Galactica's first season, and as it happens, I actually don't have many complaints about it, aside from the fact that it didn't really establish why it was so important to Gaius that he know where the sweet spot on the Cylon base was, nor did I understand why everyone expected him to know.

I also watched part of the first episode of the 1978 Battlestar Galactica, which, while not as good as the new series, was actually much better than I remembered it being on the few occasions when I saw it as a child. Its production values are actually quite good for a television series of the time.

The show's very obviously an attempt to capitalise on the popularity of Star Wars and aspects of it inspired by the George Lucas film couldn't be more obvious. A dogfight sequence pitting Apollo and Zack against some Cylon fighters was almost exactly like the Millennium Falcon's battle with TIE Fighters following the escape from the Death Star, except the Star Wars scene has never made my mind wander away completely halfway through.

Which made me realise that there hasn't really been any good space dogfight sequence since Star Wars, though it's certainly been attempted often enough. As dull as the 1978 Battlestar Galactica scene was, it was nice to see someone attempting it.

And this was one of the nice things about the episode of the new series I watched last night, featuring a fighter assault on a Cylon mining facility. It featured Apollo flying into an access tube reminiscent of both Death Star battles. I could feel the enthusiasm of the people crafting the sequence, trying to fit in every idea they could, from the other fighters getting shot down to Apollo having difficulty believing he's going to do something this crazy.

I was put in the mood to play TIE Fighter, which was my favourite computer game in high school. A Star Wars flight simulator, it really captured the excitement of the Star Wars style dogfight in a way nothing else has, including the Battlestar Galactica episode last night. And it was a real flight simulator, too, not a thing that puts you in a confined level where the ship's systems are managed by an invisible omnipotent game designer laziness. I need to get a new joystick . . .

Saturday, January 17, 2009

That's Our Cylon!

I went to Denny's for breakfast to-day and sat there reading for several hours before going back to my car and finding I'd missed a call from my sister asking if I wanted to get some frozen yoghurt. A whole bunch of things have actually been cropping up for to-day, so I'm pretty short on time here.

I watched the ninth episode of Battlestar Galactica last night, directed by Edward James Olmos and featuring an oddly bouncy score telling me I was supposed to find the suspicion of Cylons in the midst to be quirky on this occasion. I rather liked how Starbuck wasn't particularly grossed out by Gaius masturbating in front of her, and I suppose the pilots must be pretty used to seeing and hearing one another beating off in their bunks. Actually, with spacious co-ed bathrooms and strict rules against romantic entanglements, it's kind of amazing there's not rampant insubordination, or at least people going completely out of their minds. And then we have the colonel in that episode all but giving his wife head in a corridor. Drama, drama, drama.

And so Gaius didn't report that Boomer's a Cylon. And he may be withholding information on whether the colonel's wife's a Cylon. Why? What does he gain in either case? I hope there's a real reason and it's not just sloppy writing. It's a bit disappointing to see that Ronald D. Moore doesn't have sole writing credit for another episode until the end of the second season, and even after that he seems to be pretty hands off. He's by far been the best writer so far.

Gods, that woman playing the colonel's wife has ugly feet.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Thanks, Mars!

And I guess that's all there is to know! Neat!

Animals and Robots

I woke up at 11:55 to-day. AM! Technically morning! I'm a normal person after all!

I actually fell asleep at around 4am, too, so I got about eight hours. I saw that a different cat comes around the backyard during the day, a white one with brown spots and a grey and black stripy raccoon's tail.

It's interesting the parade of animals that pass before the window just above the kitchen sink while I wash out the coffee pot. Yesterday it was a pair of alligator lizards doing push-ups. They were both facing me and it almost seemed worshipful, like the Kali cultists in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, until one of them pounced on the other, apparently misidentifying the other lizard as a member of the opposite sex. Or not.

Last night I watched the eighth episode of Battlestar Galactica, in which we learned that the Galactica has no-one more qualified to interrogate a dangerous prisoner than a recently injured fighter pilot, that Starbuck's plan to get information out of the guy was to ask him sternly, that Starbuck's ridiculously easy to manipulate, and that Cylons don't crack under torture. I already had misgivings about the episode when it began with Roslin walking through the woods in a luminous white gown. I was afraid we were heading for soppy romance territory.

But, despite my problems with the episode, I did actually enjoy it. It's nice when a show reminds us of the ineffectiveness of torture nowadays, and I liked the stuff between Gaius and Boomer. Of course, if Gaius doesn't immediately report his finding that Boomer's a Cylon to Adama, the whole thing's going to seem pretty silly. But I'm sure it won't happen that way.

The episode was written by Toni Graphia, one of a couple individuals involved in both this series and Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles, also including composer Bear McCreary. Small world.

McCreary's website identifies him as "composer/lyricist/accordionist". The picture of him on the site shows a serious young man with one of those van dyke's only terminal geeks think looks cool. I would so love to see him cameo on Terminator on a street corner with his accordion and maybe some lederhosen, telling Cameron that he wishes to "serenade her with the dark passion of polka."

But the guy does do a good job on both series. I enjoy allowing my mind to accidentally suss English lyrics from the alien language vocals of the Battlestar Galactica theme. Last night I was getting, "Oba awesome. Now we call the radio. On a garden rack's out your mind. Now young candelabra's a . . . way ya . . . HOP!"

Well, I'd better go make use of the day now. Ha!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Fake Night and Spaghetti

To-night I think I'll be watching this live Rifftrax thing at 6pm PT (9pm ET). For those of you who've been wondering about Rifftrax, this thing's apparently free and doesn't require registration. It's essentially a live Mystery Science Theatre 3000 short.

I did get a lot done yesterday and I managed to get to bed at 3am. I didn't actually fall asleep until 5am or so, of course, but I'm learning. I did wake up at 1pm, so maybe my body will finally get the idea pretty soon.

Before bed, I drank some shiraz and ate spaghetti while watching the seventh episode of Battlestar Galactica, which was a vast improvement over several that came before. I love watching Gaius with the Cylon lady.

I was rather surprised that the Galactica has such spacious heads--it's like a mall restroom, when I'd have expected something small and cramped. I rather like how space normally seems to be at such a premium that only the commander, the colonel, and the president seem to have anything like rooms of their own, and the president's looks like it's just closed off by a curtain. Meanwhile, this bathroom scene looks like it was lifted from Ally McBeal.

I'm also learning to look away during the opening theme, which for some reason always shows a bunch of spoilers for the episode. And what's with all the incredibly lousy day for night shots?

Nice lens flare. Is that supposed to be from the moon? Someone's got a little too much faith in the blue filter. I never find day for night shots convincing, but shooting on top of a building on a clear day is just sloppy.

I seem to have gotten a particularly nice bottle of Charles Shaw Shiraz. I've been enjoying it over several days, as I purchased at BevMo this handy "VacuVin" that pumps air out of the bottle through a rubber cork. I bet it'll help in keeping mead longer, too, and it'll be especially useful the next time I decide to spend more than two dollars on a bottle of wine.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's a Landscape Without a Ground?

I keep meaning to write about the atomic bomb I saw a couple weeks ago. Tim was playing Fallout 3, playing his character in a fairly dastardly fashion, leading him to the opportunity of setting off an atomic bomb in the centre of a small town. Fallout 3 uses Oblivion's engine, so whatever problems it may have with writing, it is by far the best rendering of a large, three dimensional world. To those of you familiar with World of Warcraft or Second Life, imagine landscape and objects on it a thousand times better detailed and lit than you're used to, and many of those details are effected by realistic physics.

Or imagine you're standing on the balcony of a tower several miles away from a small town. Now, imagine that, from the place where you know the town lies, there suddenly comes an overwhelming and blinding flash of white light that overrides your entire field of vision for a moment, followed by the sight of waves of dust ripping across the landscape in all directions from the town, the location of which is now also marked by a pillar of white flame mushrooming up into smoke.

Then imagine you can walk across that newly altered landscape until the radiation starts to make you sick and you can see the twisted remains of the town and the people. And there's a crater.

Since Doom, there've been "Big Fucking Guns", but there has been nothing like this before. This is the first atomic bomb in a video game.

I managed to get to bed a little earlier last night. This was followed by a variety of things waking me up throughout the night and day, the grand finale of which was a bunch of guys in the bathroom on the other side of the wall removing the toilet and shower facets. Because "they're old" my grandmother said. Yeah. This house isn't even twenty years old. That's a Southern Californian way of thinking for you. I just can't wait for her to complain about the economy again.

I drew and inked two pages yesterday. Hopefully I'm awake enough to do that again to-day. Gods, I want a shave.

I'm so uncoordinated right now, and I'm making weird decisions. I drove to the mall so I could use the bathroom, and for breakfast I got a bean and cheese burrito and a small coke from Rubio's. The burrito came with chips and when one fell to the ground, I carefully took one of my napkins and lifted the fallen item before carrying it to the trash can. We can't messes, now, can we?

When the woman asked for my name after I ordered, I said, "Yep." As though she'd asked me whether or not I wanted a name. I hope I'm awake enough to get things done. Well, I have coffee now, so maybe.

A lot of the bathrooms at the mall were closed, too, which seems to happen often when my grandmother's getting some work done that prevents me from using the bathroom here. Like there's a secret bathroom deprivation day.

Yesterday my sister and I went for frozen yoghurt before I got to work. I had green tea tart with toppings of raspberries and some sort of peculiar gelatinous cubes. I gather they're made from rice, though they tasted like pill capsules drained of their innards. It was good stuff, though, particularly the yoghurt itself, but I've had a thing for green tea lately.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Dubious Obstacles

Last night I dreamt I was involved in some big, live action video game, like maybe one of those obstacle course reality shows from Japan, only I didn't see any audience or host. I was with a girl I didn't recognise who wore blue jeans and had long, dyed red hair. The course went through a cartoonish, plain looking house that was unnaturally extended into a labyrinth of bright yellow walls, brown sofas, tables, and green bars. We were almost at the last boss, but before we could fight him, we both realised we had to pee. She squatted then and there, but I was chased by rottweilers into a room filled with sleepy white kittens and it just didn't seem right trying to pee there.

The episode of Battlestar Galactica I watched last night, the fifth episode of the first season, may as well have been part of the dream for all the sense it made. First of all, I found it a little hard to believe Commander Adama would really jeopardise the safety of the entire human race to look for Starbuck. But, okay, let's say he was influenced by his emotions. We still then are expected to swallow that Starbuck, with her oxygen supply at critical, took the time to write her name in big, blocky letters on the underside of an alien craft she'd shot down whose biomechanical technology she had no familiarity with, yet she was nonetheless able to access the oxygen supply, repair, and fly back into space. If Katee Sackoff weren't so much fun to watch, I'd have never gotten through the episode.

The episode before had been pretty goofy, too, but at least it had a nice scene between Sackoff and Edward James Olmos, the show's two best actors.

I hope President Roslin dies from her cancer pretty soon. I don't know how much more I can take of her bland and conceited presence.

I got a lot done yesterday, but I've a lot to do to-day . . .

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Morrissey Video!

I think Scar Baby and Lori Fury may especially appreciate this video;

I love you, Morrissey. Everyone says he's mopey and instead of trying to prove them wrong, he just goes right on still being mopey! In fact, he'll see mopey and raise you mopier! That's why we love him, of course.

This song actually sounds a bit Smiths-ish.


I think Radiohead could get an album out of this bib;

Live from the Scuba Tank

I feel a little more focused to-day. I think part of the problem was that I was drinking in the morning mild roast coffee when I've been used to drinking extra bold. Last night I bought some Italian roast, and it was a nice thing this morning. Still feel a bit dizzy, though. The attempt to alter my sleeping schedule might be part of it, too.

I did wake up at 2pm to-day, having gone to bed at 4am, so that's probably a little over eight hours. Hopefully it helps.

I had a dream that was sort of a cross between Revolutionary Girl Utena and Hayate no Gotoku (Hayate the Combat Butler). I was training to be a butler for a woman whose manor took up a third of Santee. I was wearing a suit that sort of looked like Utena's boy's uniform. There were barricades set up at intervals in the streets, and part of my training was to drive through these without slowing down and without any damage to my vehicle. I was told this was something everyone else was capable of doing and I was deficient for being unable to do it.

Last night was a pretty uneventful evening. After some lunch at my parents' house, I went to The Living Room and read while drinking a latte and eating a croissant.

I tried a bunch of different things to clear away the cobwebs. I sang David Bowie's "Life on Mars?" really loud while driving. It seemed to help. I bought some microwave vegetable lasagne because I thought it would also help for some reason. I think it did.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Glasses and Language

I'm not sure what my problem was yesterday, but it's kind of carried to to-day--a strange light-headedness. Trouble concentrating, bit of dizziness. My arms felt numb last night, too--I had a lot of trouble getting to sleep. I thought maybe there was a problem with my blood flow so I stood on my head for a little while. It seemed to help.

I was thinking of watching Mikio Naruse's Bangiku last night, but I ran out of time. I ended up, about an hour and a half before I'd intended to start getting ready for bed, not quite knowing what I wanted to do. I poured myself some Wild Turkey and started watching a video of a stage production of Wagner's Das Rheingold I'd had on the hard drive for a long time--it was two gigs, taking up a lot of space, but I just hadn't found the right moment to watch it. Last night I started it, but discovered I couldn't get the subtitles file to work. I was going to shut it off, but I started feeling really mellow--I don't know if it was the odd, light-headedness, the bourbon, or both, but I just felt kind of groovy watching these people clomping around the stage and singing in German.

On Friday night, I watched Ingmar Bergman's Through a Glass Darkly, which featured the best wallpaper I'd ever seen in a movie;

Karin, a schizophrenic woman, secretly visits a room in a beach house she's staying in with her husband, father, and half-brother--she hears faint voices from the other side of the wall, people she thinks are waiting for God, but she's not sure the people are real, much like we're not sure we can see demoniac faces in the wallpaper.

Through a Glass Darkly completely captivated me, it held me hostage, I completely lost track of time and surroundings. I was surprised to look at the clock and see it was 4am after the movie, which I'd only planned on watching until 3:30am. This is a movie so meticulously and efficiently constructed--there are only four characters, each one essential to reflect different parts of each of the others, but Karin stands out as a nucleus, with each of the male characters reflecting a different aspect of her reality as she deals with it. Martin, her husband, has conventional conceptions of how the world and family are meant to work. Minus, her young half-brother, represents the reality of instinctual, physiological need, and her father, David, represents the intelligent, horrifying, and perhaps useless analysing of reality and the recognition of the delusions everyone maintains to survive in it.

David says something to her that's now one of my favourite lines in any book or movie;

"You see, Karin . . . One draws a magic circle around oneself to keep everything out that doesn't fit into one's secret games. Each time life breaks into the circle, the games become puny and ridiculous."

Karin says, with genuine sympathy, "Poor little Papa." David says, yes, he his her poor little Papa because he is forced to live in reality. He's been forced time and again to face his true nature's incongruity with his self-image, or conception of how he had been conditioned to see people in the world.

The movie's beautifully filmed, too. It would have been ingenious as simply a set of dialogues written on paper, but the imagery, along with the incredible performances, gives the intellectual material elegance and organic warmth that assist the film's ideas enormously.

By the end of the movie, the conflict between the human need for a meaningful existence and the apparent randomness of reality are rendered perfectly and heartbreakingly, so that one character's expressed need for something in existence to hold onto and another's reply that faith in love is the best we have, I worried along with them at the tenuousness of it.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Talk to the Stereotype

I'm two episodes into the first season of Battlestar Galactica. So far I mainly like it. I get irritated by the faux sloppy camerawork of the exterior shots, but the characters play off each other pretty well. When I watched the second episode last night, the president asked her young aide guy if her clothes looked nice and he said, "You look fine." She replied, in a pitying tone, "You don't know anything about women, do you?"

I know this was meant to develop how he's a young, inexperienced guy and she's ever so wise and adores him in the freshness of his youth or whatever. But I so wanted him to say, "How was your day? Fine? You don't know anything about daytime, do you?"

But again, mostly I'm liking it. I loved the chemistry between Starbuck and Gaius during the card game. He comes off as a guy who spends a lot of time looking at a bunch of different angles, and Starbuck with him comes off as regarding most of those angles as irrelevant. They're kind of perfectly matched--they both have big personalities, only hers feels more honest. There's a powerplay there and you genuinely don't know who's going to win.

To-day's had a lot of distractions, and now I need to go buy more tea, so that's all from me . . .

Above the Influence

Friday, January 09, 2009

"We'll Get This and then We'll Buy You Those Clothes"

At Nordstrom, every year is the year of pink and beige. I still can't believe people shop there.

I wandered around Fashion Valley mall to-day. The place makes me feel like it's an incredible time to be alive for young, pretty women who can spend thousands of dollars a week on clothes. The bookstore's finally been cast out, and the empire of shirts, pants, and skirts continues to expand, sometimes into strange, new permutations. It's weird how natural the Apple store looks among them. There was also a Sony store trying to be an Apple store. Small racks bearing black and grey electronics wreathed a curvy dais upon which grew nine bamboo shoots like a menorah. I guess they're trying to go for a slightly more traditional, human look than the great, glowing milk sack that is the Apple store.

I used to draw and write a lot in the Fashion Valley parking garage. These days I need far more controlled conditions. But I did work a bit on the Chapter 17 script in there to-day. The nice thing about mall parking garages is that you can truly feel alone there. Well, except for the kids skateboarding. They didn't bother me though.

Yes, I'm only just now writing the Chapter 17 script. But I'm not any further behind than I was with Chapter 16. All my efforts to get back to being exactly two weeks ahead instead of only a week and a half ahead since relatives visited late last year have been pretty much to naught. Basically because, since Chapter 11, I've been pouring a lot more energy into the comic. I just haven't had enough pages that I wanted to go quickly on. I remember Chapter 5, on which I did two pages a day to get ahead for Comic-Con, was much, much simpler than the chapters I'm doing now. I need a few more chapters like that.

I don't want to rush 17, though, because I want to do a lot of research before I get started on Chapter 18.

Anyway, remember to check out Chapter 16 to-day. It officially confirms I'm a Vertigo geek. I actually took this screenshot for reference;

Not only that, I actually pulled colours from it. If they had Vertigo conventions, I'd go. Does that make me a Vertigie? A Vertiger?

Venia Needs to be Madeleine for a While

A new chapter of Venia's Travels is online. It feels kind of short because there's not much dialogue. But it gets pretty messy, so watch out.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Master of Doom

Pretty damned tired to-day, but I'm sticking to getting up at least by 1pm.

Last night was devoted almost entirely to colouring except for a really quick bunch of errands--first to my parents' house to pick up some packages (my new DVD-ROM and a book for research involved with my web comic), then to Trader Joes to buy some wine, to Target to buy some blank DVDs (where two girls sitting on the curb giggled when I had to stop and wait for the doors to slide open) and a corkscrew, to Vons to buy some bread and apples, and finally to Henry's to buy more honey and soup. And I hadn't even planned on going out yesterday.

I finished listening to Christopher Lee reading The Children of Hurin last night. I still can't tell what was missing from The Silmarillion. But what a wonderfully fucked up story. That Turin fellow just can't win. I mean, let's tally this (spoilers ahead); his father's captured by Morgoth when he's a kid, his little sister dies, he's forced to leave his mother, he gets to grow up in Doriath, which is nice, but he gets unjustly accused of the murder of one of the King's councillors, he gets exiled again, he has to live in poverty with thieves, he accidentally murders his best friend, he accidentally brings the elven kingdom of Nargothrond to destruction through his efforts to save it, and by those same efforts the woman he loves is slain by orcs. Then he accidentally marries his amnesiac sister, who kills herself when she learns the truth, and, under a misapprehension, he unjustly slays the leader of the House of Haleth. But on the other hand, Turin did kill Glaurung the dragon. Yay.

What a gloomy fucking story. It's great. And it kind of makes everything else Tolkien did seem even better--'cause you know Tolkien's capable of this sadism, so all bets are off.

Speaking of great things, did Clint Eastwood just make a movie about how a bunch of no good kids need to get off his lawn? I can just imagine the sentimental piece of schlock the movie actually is, something the Academy will feel good about stroking. But there's something so great about seeing such unabashed curmudgeonry.

One of the critic quotes in the TV trailers for Gran Torino is something like, "This is vintage Eastwood!" Has anyone actually seen The Outlaw Josey Wales? You know, the movie where Eastwood kills a bunch of union soldiers with a gatling gun and befriends a stiffly played, saintly old Native American caricature, and takes a young "squaw" for a slave before an annoying blond woman with fluffy, 1970s hair falls in love with him? I think there are about 30 seconds in that movie where Eastwood's not stroking his own ego and refraining from showing any emotion.

But at least his son wrote the score for this new movie. I'm sure that was in no way a bad idea.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Absolute Destiny

To-day I dreamt Katy Perry wrote a song called "I Kissed My Dad and I Liked It".

I was going to try getting up at noon to-day, but doing so would've meant shaving an hour off my sleeping period. I didn't want to feel as miserable to-day as I did yesterday--wandering around downtown, I never quite felt there.

Here's another picture that didn't quite come out;

I took three pictures of that horse, hoping one would come out because he kept looking right at me.

The driver was taking a break when I walked up so I asked his permission to take the pictures. I thanked him, took the three useless, blurred images, and started to walk away when he said peevishly, "You're welcome!"

"Er, thank you," I said again. This was at Seaport Village, a pretty little tourist area by the bay. All the people working there I talked to sounded really pissed off, probably from dealing with tourists all day. First was a guy alone in a shop (actually the sign said it was a "shoppe") of Scandinavian knickknacks called "The Little Viking". I looked at a bunch of little statues of trolls and knights while he stood watching me with his arms folded across his chest listening to Howard Stern complaining about the FCC, apparently from The History of Howard Stern.

Next I stopped for lunch at a Greek restaurant where the Greek Man grudgingly allowed me to order a spanikopita.

I watched the fourth episode of Revolutionary Girl Utena to-day. Every time Utena fights a duel with someone over the engagement of Himemiya, the Rose Bride, it goes into this musical sequence, which is slightly different each time, called "Absolute Destiny Apocalypse";

Subtle, no?

I'm getting the impression that Utena's a revolutionary girl because she despises this ritual so much, which denies Himemiya the right to chose just about anything for herself. Though Himemiya doesn't seem terribly unhappy with the system herself--it seems as though Utena keeps fighting in order to prevent Himemiya from being hurt by her own complicity. It's really making me root for Utena. A long time ago, a girl I liked but who was also liked by another guy intimated that she wanted the two of us to fight over her, and I've always been turned off by this abdication of free will. I wonder how many of the conflicts in this world are due to people afraid of taking initiative for themselves.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Somewhere Outside my Brain, There are Places

Instead of letting myself get disembowelled like a schmuck by some fairy lady, I took my digital camera downtown to-day to take pictures. I bet there's probably a checklist of stages for jackasses with new cameras, and I guess I'm probably at stage 4 or 5. At least I'm not self-deprecating.

This is from on top of Horton Plaza, my favourite mall.

Also from on top of the mall. A restaurant.

Jessop's the clock.

At the harbour now, obviously, taking a picture of a reproduction of an old boat. I took three pictures of it and couldn't get one that wasn't blurry. The camera seems to do a lot of things automatically that I still need to learn to shut off. At least I figured out how to turn off the flash, unlike most of the tourists around me.


The things that look like whale bones on the left were far more interesting when I took this photograph than when I walked closer afterwards and found out it was some kind of sculpture.

I wish this one had come out better.

This one came out crystal clear, probably because there was nothing in the foreground to make it interesting. I wonder if my camera's even capable of deep focus. Maybe I need a telephoto lens like Kurosawa.

I'm not sure what this place was, but it was pretty creepy.

The city. Night.

I loved how orange these leaves looked by the streetlamp. If you look hard enough, you can find trees that change colour for autumn and winter in San Diego.

Ii Na

Good, good.

Woke at 1pm to-day. Very tired. But all I need to do is colour to-night.

I started listening to William Friedkin's DVD commentary for Vertigo. He's almost as bad as Stanley Donen--just giving a play by play--Now Scottie*'s going to see Gavin Elster, who wants him to follow his wife . . . Scottie has vertigo which makes him dizzy. Etc. Still not as bad as Richard Schickel's commentary for La Dolce Vita, wherein he held forth on the film being about Marcello's impotence shortly before the first of many scenes where Marcello makes it with a woman.

Am I the only one who would think of this song whenever they heard about Joe the Plumber?

*James Doohan's a pretty Irish sounding name. Why didn't he play a character named Paddy? Slightly more demeaning than Scotty, I guess . . .

Monday, January 05, 2009

Visual Conduits

I registered for Comic-Con 2009 on Saturday. So it begins.

I think my dream now would be to visit Comiket. It occurs to me that what I do kind of qualifies as dojinshi and it seems like there's a much bigger demand for it in Japan. If only my Japanese were a little better . . .

I saw at Parkway Plaza mall on Saturday that the local comic book store, Comics 'N Stuff, has appeared again, this time in a much better location, across from the movie theatre and next to the Game Stop. I hope they can stick around longer this time, but I noticed they're selling hardly any comic books now. The twenty-four page issue style is relegated to half a wall, and the rest of the store is dominated by anime soundtrack CDs, figurines, action figures, dolls, posters, and wall scrolls--there was a nice looking Rei and Asuka from Evangelion wall scroll. It was sad to note the Borders at the same mall had a much better selection of comics.

I was at the mall with Tim mainly because I was interested in buying a new DVD-ROM--a twenty five dollar Samsung that Tim had recommended and which I didn't find. I eventually ordered it to-day from New Egg, but not before checking Fry's to-day, an adventure that involved me going outside in the daytime. This would be the first time I've been in direct sunlight in more than a week--to-day I got myself up bright and early at 1:30 in the afternoon. It feels like it's time. Partly to get an early start on the Comic-Con schedule, and partly because my sister's Christmas present to me was a trip to Disneyland. I haven't been there since high school, before which I'd gone there with my family almost yearly. I've been jonsing for it.

The opening themes for Goku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei are becoming increasingly disturbed;

I downloaded the second one almost a month ago, but I haven't really been able to watch it because the group who fansubbed it, GG, are notoriously lousy at encoding. The sound got all out of sync in Media Player Classic, and when I tried it to-day in VideoLan, the thing just crashed about two thirds in. Tim tells me this is because GG are primarily Mac users, which means they've only learned to code within Apple's fantasy parameters. Which basically means that, although the video quality isn't any better than the average half hour of fansubbed anime, the file's three times the size and about a third as efficient with the computer's resources. But it's the kind of thing you can't tell Mac users--the Kool-Aid runs too deep.

Arina told me about a site a while ago that shows anime series like hulu. I probably ought to find that site again if I want to keep watching these Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei OVAs in a timely fashion.

Anyone want some official Venia's Travels LJ Icons?

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Good Enough, Smart Enough, and Doggone It, People Like Him

Looks like Al Franken, author of Lies, and the Lying Liars who Tell Them: a Fair and Balanced Look at the Right, is going to win the long contested Minnesota senate race. I'm sure Norm Coleman will raise a stink but, gods, please let this stick.

Now, I don't necessarily hate Republicans. I just think their social, political, and economic philosophies are inherently destructive as they proceed from fundamental misunderstandings of human nature and the human condition, whether they come to their political viewpoint from poverty, like Joe the Plumber who complains of taxation from Obama that he will not receive interfering with his purchasing of a company he can't afford, or from wealth, like the automobile industry executives who took private jets to Washington to beg for a no strings attached bailout for their companies dying under their mismanagement (or the congressmen who didn't grant a conditional bailout and allowed conditions for thousands of people to lose their jobs, for that matter). But that doesn't mean I think Republicans are always wrong. Just out of touch.

Kind of like the fairy lady in the new Sirenia Digest vignette, "Murder Ballad No. 5", a story Caitlin says she wrote as a reaction to the culture of happy-fairy-healing within the modern magic/pagan community. I was uncertain, at first, about the relevance of the first part of the story, concerning a frightened young girl's realisation she's a fairy, to the later part of the story concerning the psychopathic fairy woman the girl eventually became, until I remembered Caitlin's stated motive for writing the story and I remembered that the young girl's life had been described as "easy and kind" before she learned she was a fairy. The point being that as the girl moved from a world that treated her kindly to a world where she enjoyed incredible magical power, she never actually learned the inherent value of human life. The message is old, but clear and important; absolute power corrupts absolutely. When you've been raised to expect everything you want just to come to you, it can make you kind of a dick.

I've been catching up on Amanda Palmer's blog to-day, and she posted this video of Bill Hicks;

For a long time, I just didn't get Bill Hicks. Sure, I agreed with just about everything he said, but I didn't quite understand the value of him saying it--it didn't seem to me he put things in an exceptionally funny or clever manner. But watching this video, it occurred to me that sometimes things need to be said as plainly as possible.

As for whether or not I think New Kids on the Block style boy bands resemble Nazi youths, while it may sound exactly like the hyperbole Fox News might use to describe the Left, I think there is an inherent danger in teaching children to love things that are not given in love. A machine designed to make money off aesthetic and sexual seduction while giving as little as possible in return creates a sort of fundamental inequality. It preps people to follow instructions without questioning because they've trained themselves to avoid trying to take full account of their objects of worship.

I should also mention I thought the second Sirenia Digest story was rather pretty, despite the fact that I can't think of anything else to say about it, since, once again, the Digest doesn't seem to be drawing many comments (please, people, if you read it and liked it at all, go comment). I'm not as irritated by the lack of comments this month, though, since I thought to myself it is pretty absurd to expect an artist's friends to read every little thing she publishes, and maybe Caitlin's just attracted more people who are interested in being her friends than in being readers of her fiction. Nothing wrong with that.