30 December, 2010

Why was Julie Newmar writing to Wong Fu anyway?

It's been a long vacation so far, and it's only halfway done. I have laid around in bed all day, taken my car to Nashville for repairs, and moved everything I have from a storage unit in Nebraska to a storage unit near Fort Campbell. Right now I'm in Lincoln to pick up my car and goof around for a few more days. It will be very nice to not have to drive for 12 hours once this adventure is done.

I'm somewhere in Chapter 6 of editing the book, and my goal of having the second draft finished by the end of vacation doesn't look likely. I know it's got to be done, but the sheer volume of effort to 'correct' the work outweighs (in some ways) the effort required to create it in the first place. So eager am I to try avoiding the work of editing that I've been plotting my next novel, which I'll hopefully write no later than the next NANOWRIMO.

All this notwithstanding, the end of 2010 looks like a very low-energy period for the world. People just seem to be waiting for the year to be over. I think the condition is worst for people who really want to pretend we're not at war, at least among the political junkies.

To cite an example about low-energy, I've had the above paragraphs written since the 30th or so, but had absolutely no idea what to write next. The same stuff is going on in the world, but I don't feel a major urge to write about it. I don't have any new insights or connections to make off-hand, or at least none I can think of.

I wonder if the world will be in a hot war by the end of 2011. Now that the fog of the closing year is gone, I think we're going to see a lot of people with fewer illusions about where the world's current path is leading us. Iran, North Korea and Venezuela along with their various allies and sattelites are at war with us, along with extremist Islam itself. All of these forces easily exploit the left wing in the US and free world nations in weakening our own defenses.

If you've been following the reviews of the Star Wars prequels so far, here's a link to the review of "Revenge of the Sith", a 90-minute+ review.

It has fewer things to rip apart hilariously in the third prequel, but it still finds plenty of fresh meat. It also goes on an extended (and fascinating) discussion of movie-making in general, showing repetition of shots in the prequels as George Lucas' lack of imagination. It also shows how many shots are blatantly swiped from the One True Trilogy, and goes on an extended comparison with Citizen Kane, building all three of these themes up to a point where it's time to turn off the machine and trust your feelings, and we see Luke Skywalker doing that.

In many ways the point is made by just showing clips from the earlier movies. Since this review is supposed to be about "Revenge of the Sith", which was supposed to reflect on "Return of the Jedi", those two movies are favored when clips are chosen. A random shot of Jabba looked monstrous and frightening, just what we expected from a really powerful bad guy who's been part of the story as long as Han Solo, but we'd never actually seen before. There's the scene where R2 finally reveals he's been carrying the lightsaber, which Luke catches and begins the daring rescue over the Sarlaac pit, and the excitement is still palpable. [An unused scene from "Jedi", intended for the opening, has Luke sitting and working on something we eventually see is a new lightsaber he's constructed. This was correctly removed, just as the appearance of Jabba in the original "Star Wars" was taken out.] There's nothing comparable in the prequels to such a classic action movie moment.

The pivotal point of the series is certainly the "I am your father" moment, because it came out of nowhere. In "Star Wars", Vader had been a very cool badass villain, but not the central one. Really, the Death Star was the central threat, even though it was just a tool of Grand Moff Tarkin, who Leia "expected to see holding Vader's leash." Vader's encounter with Obi-wan is dramatic, and the dialogue accounts for about 50% of everything we know about either of them. "The circle is complete", "I was the student, but now I am the master", "if you strike me down..." The point was that Obi-wan had access to some form of knowledge beyond a good blaster [Han's point of view]. We had heard it in his quasi-mystical speeches, seen it in action in Mos Eisley when he cut off a dude's arm and misdirected stormtrooper, and watched him trying to impart the knowledge to Luke. The theme isn't any different than an afterschool "believe in yourself" tv special, but the story and characters are what make it interesting. At the crucial moment, Luke hears the dead man's voice and saves the day. Vader was almost irrelevant, Tarkin was even moreso, and this was the culmination of the entire movie since Leia inputted the stolen data tapes into R2. ["Now click the application. Choose the file and copy and paste it." "Why is the screen frozen?"]

[[Also worth pointing out, I think, that the end of "Star Wars" is the only real use of three-dimensional space I've noticed in every spaceship flight in the entire series. Han Solo drops down from a roughly-90 degree angle relative to the surface of the Death Star in order to knock out Vader and the other TIE fighters chasing Luke down the trench where the 2-meter exhaust port lies. The obvious question would be why didn't Han or any of the X-wing fighters just drop down and hit the port that way instead of wasting the lives of Red Squad and Gold Squad making that suicide run? They obviously had no problem making it to the Death Star's surface before the Empire had time to scramble more than token resistance, so the Rebellion's strategy basically involved keeping a lot of pilots and ships in a kill zone for several minutes longer than they had to before accomplishing the mission. Fortunately they had plenty of time for that, because the Death Star was nowhere near the Rebellion's home base on Yavin.

[[But no one ever thinks three-dimensionally after Han's stroke of genius. The second Death Star's weak spot is in the center along a series of tunnels. You could argue Han does that when he flies the Falcon into the asteroid field in "Empire", but that's all. In the prequels, cgi ships move vertically through the Coruscant skyline, but they're indistinguishable from the ones moving horizontally. Even when Anakin and Obi-wan are jumping between buildings in "Clones", the speeders they hit are always ones moving parallel to the ground, not vertically or diagonally. I'd say Han earned his medal and promotion for his brilliance at the end of "Star Wars".]]

Anyway, the Force and its mystical aspects are developed or implied, but not dominant in "Star Wars", just as Darth Vader is a dramatic villain but not the only one or the major one. Since he's the only one who survived, it was a natural he'd return for the sequel. Luke's connection to the Force is developed right away in the sequel (rescuing himself from the wampa - can you believe I didn't have to look that up?) and, if Lucas and the others chose to continue it, he'd still have the sense of something to prove implied by all the discussion of his father in the first movie.

It's generally agreed that Lucas is the one who decided Vader would say he was Luke's father. Leigh Brackett's original screenplay for "Star Wars II" had the Jedi ghost of Luke's father training him on Dagobah with Yoda. After she died, Lucas revised it a few times before giving it to Lawrence Kasdan with the "I am your father" scene included. Other than the ending and details like Lando being a clone, the overall plot in the final movie is unchanged from Lucas' original outline that Brackett wrote her script from. Lucas and Brackett agreed that the Emperor and the Force would be developed much more in the second movie. I suspect the Clone Wars was the more interesting thing to Lucas, as the original conception of Lando shows. Lucas' view of the backstory may have shifted constantly - especially given all the revisions from conception through the original movie becoming a hit - but it's very extensive, and unquestionably his.

[An e-book is available here and it's quite fascinating; much of my commentary on Star Wars comes from here: http://www.secrethistoryofstarwars.com/ ]

Although Lawrence Kasdan and director Irving Kershner made "Empire Strikes Back" the movie it was - usually against Lucas' will - the overall achievement is Lucas'. "Return of the Jedi" couldn't help but *work* with the build-up it got from the first two movies, and even though in the opinion of many it didn't work very well, in the opinion of people who like that sort of thing (which is most of us) they like it very much. The success of the original trilogy and all the endless discussion since 1977 about prequels led to the prequels. Can't replace Luke, Han, Leia or Vader as the main characters for future movies, so prequels were the easiest options. The Emperor wasn't originally intended to show up until the 9th movie.

[I should compliment everybody involved for how well the Emperor was done in "Jedi". Darth Vader had spent three movies as the ultimate badass, but there was no question he was dominated by the Emperor. After Luke finally delivers the smackdown we've waited three movies to see, he's won everything his story arc requires, turns away from the Dark Side and he's a Jedi like his father, and the Emperor drops him in an instant. In a galaxy populated with scum and villains of the galaxy, the Emperor showed up at the last minute as a ringer.]

See? Didn't have anything else to write, so I went on about Star Wars for a little while. Here's a short film featuring some of the best-known anonymous actors of our time.

23 December, 2010

Rudolph the Mutant Reindeer versus Wolverine!!!

Haven't had much of anything to say recently. I've been vegetating on holiday leave, blowing off some steam. I look at stuff going on in the political world, and I'm still interested, but a bit disconnected. Maybe I just don't have the energy to go on a long rant at the moment about anything. Don't have much interest in going on about whatever comics or music I find interesting at the moment.

Editing the book has ground to a halt. I've been stuck in Chapter 4 for a week now, and I don't even know where those pages are. I'm not interested in going on to Chapter 5, just because it's a lot more work than it was to write. Needs to be done, I get that, but I guess it needs a little more time before I want to tackle it.

Here's Facebook posts related to the season I've been making today:

Christopher Woerner has been getting a lot of letters addressed to Santa Claus lately, and will probably save them if he needs to prove his sanity in court soon.

Christopher Woerner‎'s heart is two sizes too small, but he compensates with larger sizes elsewhere, if you know what he means.

Christopher Woerner never understands why people are so reluctant this time of year to talk about the Great Pumpkin.

Christopher Woerner doesn't want his two front teeth for Christmas. You can have them. Just bring them back by the New Year.

Christopher Woerner thinks the description of Grandma's death would be more accurate if the words "a reindeer" were replaced with "Grandpa in an alcoholic rage".

Christopher Woerner realizes how miserable everybody's lives would be if he jumped off a bridge right now. But he's not going to do it, because he wants to make people miserable while he's still alive to enjoy it.

Christopher Woerner wonders if Whoville has a pinball wizard named Tommy and a large following of mods. And the Grinch is up there singing "no one knows what it's like to be the bad man, behind blue eyes"

Christopher Woerner would be more disturbed by his old partner warning of ghosts and rattling around in chains if it didn't happen the other 364 f*cking days of the year too.

This year, as a break from linking to "Charlie Brown Christmas", here's Farley Towne.

And here's a fan-edited video for Queen's "Thank God It's Christmas". It's been a few years since I'd listened to it, and I was a bit surprised at how un-Queen-like it actually is. It's also been years since I've seen the videos the clips were taken from, and I'd forgotten how striking their big productions were. Anyway, here you go.

12 December, 2010

As my plastic surgeon always said, 'If you gotta go, go with a smile'

Well, I've enjoyed my first couple of days off in a while.

The school I went to was a miserable three week experience called WLC. Basically it's a school where you learn to be an E-5, such as it is. Long hours, stupid routines, lousy food. I passed, but I didn't exactly distinguish myself. At least it's over with.

This afternoon, I started editing the book. For probably the first time since I wrote it, I read the first chapter and made marks for revision. Over thirteen marks for the first paragraph alone. It was a short chapter - it was a short paragraph! - and my heart sunk when realizing how much effort was going to be required for the whole book. Even on the straightforward level of spelling, grammar and sentence structure, the process has similarities to breaking malformed bones so that they can heal properly. There's a lot of bones to be broken.

I must admit, I genuinely don't remember much about the story. I know the gist of what happened, but the pace of writing meant I wasn't going to be able to retain much. So I perform immediate action wherever I see a need, polishing as much as possible and keeping the overall shape of the book in mind. It's quite detail-intensive, and as stated, I don't remember a whole lot. Now I have to keep in mind what I intended, what I had worked out that doesn't show up on the page, what the characters are doing, what they think they're doing, and all the overlapping densities of context I've tried to make use of.

It's about a fictional leader of a fictional country. It occured to me weeks ago that a large part of the book was nothing but exposition, since I was trying to work in the history and culture of a nation that doesn't exist alongside the fictional lead characters. That's a lot to keep track of.

An advantage I have is that it worked for most of the chapters. They were written in one sitting, and I was mostly successful at making them self-contained as they extended stories-in-progress. Plans I had abandoned and elements that I had forgotten about suddenly resurfaced when their time came. I don't think there will be a great deal of inconsistency in the plot or themes, so most of the second draft is polishing.

A disadvantage I have is that not all of the first draft was 100% written. There's a chapter or two with gaping holes I never got around to writing, and another chapter or two that is largely fragments that did not work very well as self-contained chapters. And there's another chapter or two that are just plain short. The inconsistencies and knots I do find will have to be untangled in these parts-yet-unwritten, and I'm not looking forward to figuring those out.

For now, it's snowing outside and I've heard that everything is closed tomorrow. That will be good. It's a way to take leave without losing any leave days.

07 December, 2010

I'm not an actor, but I play one on television

I'm almost out of school. It hasn't been easy, and I haven't been outstanding, but it's almost done. I'll probably write more about it later when I have free time. As long as I show up on time in the right uniform and shave, I'm good.

The President just crumbled. Seriously. I've been expecting this outburst for more than a year now - although for some reason I assumed he'd be blatantly drunk (who wouldn't be?) - and it's still not a pretty picture.

Yesterday he made a deal with Republicans to extend the Bush tax cuts for two more years in exchange for extending unemployment benefits for 13 months. Maintaining spending for people the taxpayer is already carrying and allowing everyone else in the country to have an idea what they'll be paying in taxes next year. Remember, this Congress didn't even pass a budget - which can be reconciled between the two Houses - so even the IRS would be unprepared for the massive clusterfuck that awaited next 15 April. You don't seriously think Tim Geithner has spent his time in office preparing the bureaucracy for the changes in their daily operations that awaited them, do you? Millions of forms and tax manuals would be different next year.

Anyway, first genuinely bipartisan action in this administration. Obama had to prove that he needed the other side a lot more than they need him, or something like that. Right at the start of his administration, he told Republicans "I won" in a meeting. Ok. Fair enough. He also has large majorities of his party in charge of both houses of Congress and gets to appoint not one, but two Supreme Court justices in the first two years of his administration. So one could say he came in with a handful of strong cards.

None of this has stopped North Korea from firing off missles or attacking South Korea. None of this has stopped Iran from moving closer to destroying Israel. None of this has stopped the administration's own insistence that they are not to blame for any of the negative things that have happened under their watch. At some point, he has to accept full responsibility. "The buck stops here" is a memorable phrase for a reason, and not because of the racist implications of the word "buck" either. Is Obama really going to make everything wait until he gets his hands on the money of rich people he doesn't like?

No, not this time. He has some sense of self-preservation after all.

Or maybe not. Today he gave some sort of statement to the press where he spent the first half comparing Republicans to "hostage-takers" and "bomb throwers", and the second half complaining about his leftist base, telling them how ungrateful they were. Which is fair, he got Congress to stay in session and work nights and weekends, "deeming bills passed" using ridiculous interpretations of the Commerce Clause in the Constitution and the role of reconciliation to get that health care bill passed. The people who never said "stop!!!" to any of that are now whining about how it didn't give them everything they wanted. A good internet line in the last couple of days whose source I am too lazy to look up pointed out that 'taxes go up and down, but a new entitlement never leaves' and is absolutely right. This is what the left has wanted.

What kind of leader does this sort of thing? Ok, a bad one. To trash-talk the people he's just made an agreement with doesn't speak well for his negotiating skills or an agreement made in good faith. To deliver such slams to the people who voted for him, wow.

I haven't yet read a transcript (which I usually prefer to a video for a few reasons, not least of which is that it takes fewer mb to read a transcript) but one thing that I've gathered from snippets is that he was making a legitimate attempt to open the eyes of his own base. There are other valid points of view that one must accept even if one disagrees. And the supporters of those valid points can vastly outnumber the people who are complaining that he hasn't fought hard enough.

To someone like me, who's disagreed with Mr. Obama since before he'd won the Democratic nomination for President - a moment he celebrated by saying "This was the moment when the oceans began to rise and the planet began to heal" - this is a later development of the same mentality that led him to construct a Greek temple on a German stage while campaigning. I thought those Soviet wall poster-style "Hope" and "Change" posters were neat looking, but also blatantly derivative of socialist propaganda, and adjusted my opinion of Obama supporters accordingly.

What do the people who voted for him think about him doing that now? What does "We are the change we've been waiting for" say to them? Does it still resonate in their hearts the way it did less than two years ago?

To the people who voted against him, those looked like really bad ideas, and still do. They were not ideas one could govern by, and only pandering to enough fools who believed otherwise was the only way to win power. To the people who voted against him that is.

Ok, found it: "This is a big diverse country. Not everybody agrees with us. I know that shocks people. The New York Times editorial page does not permeate the nation."

Reportedly the White House switchboards are currently lit up like Times Square on New Years. Wow.

Obama has no reputation for taking criticism well. In the long run, I remain cautiously optimistic, or at least willing to fake it. In the short run, this is probably going to get worse before it gets better, but I believe a turning point has been reached where things will begin to improve economically.

As far as the war goes, things are still as ambiguous as ever. The most immediate casualty will be Obama's sense of self-perception. The war is actually taking a very odd turn. A series of missle launches, both from North Korea and from just out in California, that go unanswered. The Stuxnet virus which, hopefully, has crippled Iran's computer system and nuclear program. Wikileaks, where a traitorous PFC has led to the reveal of thousands of highly-classified documents. Chinese naval maneuvers. Hillary Clinton's campaign had the brilliant ad that asked "Who do you want answering the phone at 3AM?" to compare her experience with Obama's. That's still a valid question.

With the Wikileaks scandal on top of everything else, she said today that Secretary of State would be her last public office. This effectively leaves the field for Sarah Palin as the country's alpha female, whatever term there might be for that. Palin has recently said that she'll run for President if no one else will do it. Also a consensus on the Republican side seems to have emerged that can be summarized as "they like her, they agree with much/most of what she says, they think she has been treated very badly by the media and they don't think she should be President now." That sounds about right to me. She'd be the first female President on roughly the same basis as Obama was the first black President, and look how that's worked out.

Yesterday I saw an article that she had been offered the position of head of the RNC, to do fundraising for the party and (presumably) have a large say in the party's position. She's turned it down, saying the position would better fit people other than her. I can imagine the guys in the back room going "I figure that leaves us with Chief of Protocol, Official Hostess or Junior Advisor." And someone else saying "Maybe if we just combine all three and give her a hat with a whistle." [/Cerebus the Aardvark reference]

The question they undoubtedly face is how to exploit her assets well without diminishing them or her in the process, as well as what she and her family want. Resigning at the governor of Alaska was a perfectly sensible move but it means she doesn't have the requisite experience. Arguably she could fight her way to the Veep post again, but the concessions both she and the party machinery would have to make would outweigh the benefits gained. She won't be the one the party puts on the ticket, but she can be the one to approve and (possibly) veto during the choosing process. Of course if she and her family would rather be rich celebrities and probably living in Alaska, how can that be used? Hope it works out well for you, we'll call when we need your services.

Anyway, Palin is interesting, at least as a celebrity. Otherwise, both parties are looking at various amounts of vindication and humiliation in their recent memories, and actively challenging their own conceptions of leadership and the role of government in the process of looking at who's willing to step up to the plate. Because there have to a whole lot of people who grew up dreaming of being President (including the current holder of the office) who are suddenly looking at the Oval Office with horror at the idea of occupying it. Again, including the current holder of the office.

It's getting late, and I'm not done with school yet. Here's the original video for Meat Loaf's "Paradise By The Dashboard Light" and the Michael Bay-directed video, many years later, for its sequel, "I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won't Do That)".