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Saturday, September 03, 2005

Predicting the Future or Stating the Obvious?

Sometimes during solitary moments, usually when I'm driving, I'll have conversations with myself. I say that, knowing full well that admitting that you talk to yourself is one of those things that will make people doubt your mental competency, but don't start getting measurements for a straitjacket just yet. It's not as crazy as it sounds.

Most of these conversations aren't verbal, so if you were to observe one of these episodes, you would just think you were watching a man in deep, contemplative thought, that is, until you heard the occasional blurted out-of-context thought. (Sometimes you have to speak your thoughts out loud just to hear how the words sound.)

I don't know how long I've had this unusual (and until today, unexamined) habit, but I suspect that it's been there for many years. I remember as a kid playing with GI Joes, that I would have to pause in mid-adventure to relieve nature's call. I rarely took my toys with me into the bathroom, but their adventures would continue. It never occurred to me that it might seem strange to an outside observer to hear a kid on the toilet talking to himself about destroying the Cobra power station and rescuing Lady Jaye.

Over the years, this strange habit has provided some benefits, especially when it comes to writing. How many times have I had conversations in my head between two completely made-up people? Too many to count. How else is one supposed to write dialogue?

But it's also helped me in more practical everyday matters. How many times in your life has someone asked you "What's wrong?" and even though you know what's wrong, you just say "Nothing." Something is definitely wrong, but you just don't know how to articulate it. I suspect that I'm not the only one who has experienced this kind of difficulty in communicating. Our abstract experiences and feelings require effort from our brains to translate them into words. Some people do that carelessly, "shooting from the lip" as they say, and others contemplate it well before hand.

I'm one of the latter, by choice as it were, since my natural tendency is to shoot from the lip. There are merits to shooting from the lip, of course. There is no better way to convey your emotional state, (ie, I'm mad.) but it's horribly inadequate for expressing your thoughts (ie, I'm mad because...). The overriding impetus isn't to communicate, but to "get it all out," and while that may be cathartic, it's not very helpful.

So there is a reason why I talk to myself, although I have to admit that most of the time it's merely out of habit. As it was this morning, when I was driving to work. Most everyone else in the city was easing into the first full day of their Labor Day weekend by catching a few extra Zs. Me, I was on my way to work, still half asleep and lingering in the headspace of forgotten dreams and unconscious thoughts.

I was thinking about my brother, whose travails I haven't fully documented here....yet, and what I would say to him. Right now, he is incarcerated at the Adams County Jail, facing a handful of felony charges, so he may be there for quite some time. My opinion of the matter is that it's tragic, but with his lifestyle, it was inevitable, and more than that, wholly deserved. Right now, he belongs in jail.

I've never been in jail, but I have a suspicion that not too many inmates feel they belong there, that they deserve to have their freedom taken away, but the sad reality is that they do. The only place rapists, murderers, bank robbers, and carjackers really belong is prison. And if you kidnap your son so that you can be expose him to the joys of a meth binge, you belong there too.

That's exactly what I would tell my brother. I empathize with his plight. If he's convicted and given jail time, his freedom will be taken away. That means, he won't be able to go to the park, surf internet porn, go out to dinner with friends, decide whether to wear the black shoes or the brown ones. He'll be told when to get up, when to go to sleep, where to go, what to do. Of course I feel bad for him, but I don't feel sympathy, which is quite different from empathy.

Getting anyone to realize the consequences of their actions is never an easy task, and getting my brother in particular to understand them, to step outside the cocoon of his own subjective experience and view with ungilded eyes what he hath wrought, is even more difficult, considering that his brain chemistry has been altered by the bathtub poison he's been smoking. To him, he's right and society is wrong. It's a common delusion for sociopaths, but that's all it is. A delusion.

So this morning, I was having this conversation with my brother in my head, explaining to him that he does not deserve his freedom, that as he proved time and again over the last year, he simply can not handle it, not like most of us, who have our problems, but somehow manage to keep it together.

The phrase that popped into my head was "You are the youth gone wild," alluding to the eponymous Skid Row song. Now like I said, it was early, I wasn't quite coherent, and I was talking to myself. Why this phrase came into my mind, I do not know. I haven't listened to Skid Row in a while, and I don't even have the album that song appears on. Not only that, but I don't know if my brother could truly be considered a "youth gone wild," because while he is still relatively young, he's 27 years old and despite the immaturity he never fully shed, he's no longer a "youth," although you can definitely say he's "gone wild."

The phrase came into my mind and was gone as quickly as it had come...that is, until the song on the radio ended and the DJ segued into the next song.

It was "Youth Gone Wild" by Skid Row.

Now either I'm eerily prescient, and can predict what's next on a radio playlist by sheer contemplative thought (even for rarities not in regular rotation, like "Youth Gone Wild") or I experienced a bit of synchronicity. What it means, or if it means anything, I haven't the slightest.

Since I already admitted talking to myself, I might as well admit that we've discussed it exhaustively, and so far, we're are leaning towards the coincidence explanation.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Classic Sci-Fi

In about a week, Dan Simmons will be meeting with producers at Digital Domain to discuss adapting his Illium/Olympos diptych into a film.  If Dan were taking advice from a little guy like me, I would suggest pitching it as a ten-part HBO mini-series, ala Band of Brothers or From the Earth to the Moon.  A two-part movie, Kill Bill but in an alternate universe, still would require cutting out whole swaths of imaginative and, ultimately necessary story elements.  The only way to include everything--and I think that just about everything in the books should be included--would be to make a ten hour movie.  And on HBO, you can delve into some of the more violent and sexual elements that made the Greek Pantheon famous and the Iliad story timeless.  If budgetary constraints are a problem, use some sets from Rome during the off season.  I’ll write the script (Dan and I live in the same state, after all), and we’ll make some great TV.

Speaking of great TV and Rome, I’d like to digress for a moment and say that I loved the debut episode and will be saving the rest on my DVR as the season progresses.  Atia’s entrance was perfect, and the drama is only going to get better.  Kenneth Cranham, the actor who plays Caesar’s rival Pomey, is excellent and a sentimental favorite from his portrayal as the mad Dr. Chanard in Hellraiser II.  Kevin McKidd, who plays a Roman Centurion, died of AIDS in his most recognizable role, as Tommy in Trainspotting.  (I liked him better in Dog Soldiers.)  Ciaran Hinds plays Caesar, and though he plays him like a rock, has moments of subtlety, as when he misleads Brutus about his army’s loyalties.  There’s the briefest look in his eye when he looks to see if Brutus bought it.  It’s those moments that make me love movies.  (And I’d consider Rome more of a movie than a “TV show.”  A very long movie.)

Alright, back to Dan Simmons.  I’ve been thinking of ways to describe Ilium/Olympos, and there is just no easy way to do it.  It’s a great story, a great idea, but where do you start?  I suppose you start by breaking it down.  There are three parts to our story, and bear with me here because this is going to get thick.  

A group of “old-style” humans live peaceful lives in a future earth.  They are protected by mysterious creatures called voynix, headless creatures with leather humps.  They are provided for by servitors, various robot droids that do all their work.  They entertain themselves by “faxing” to parties all over the world, feasting, watching what they call the “turin drama”, a kind of virtual reality movie about the Trojan War.  When they’re not engaging in various social liaisons, they are pursuing worthless hobbies like butterfly collecting or reading books.  There are four main characters here.  Ada, the leader of a community at Ardis Hall; Harman, nearly a hundred years old and the only “old-style” who knows how to read; Daeman, the libidinous butterfly collector, pudgy and not really good at anything; and Hannah, the young object of Daeman’s affection.  The “old-styles” are kept young by faxing every twenty years up to the “rings,” vast structures floating in orbit that light up the night sky, until they reach a hundred, when the go up for the Final Fax, to live in the rings with the “post-humans.”

You can pause here until the room stops spinning.  There’s a whole lot more.

While this is going on, it seems as on the plains of Ilium, a re-enactment of the Trojan War is being played out, Greek against Trojan, complete with the help of the gods.  It’s clear from the onset that this isn’t the Trojan War, as the gods don’t seem to be divine so much as technologically advanced.  That and the gods argue in a vernacular oddly suited for the time period, but strikingly funny nonetheless.  Observing all of this and reporting to the Muses is one Thomas Hockenberry, a “scholic” cloned from the DNA of a college professor.  His job is to observe the events and make sure that they line up to Homer’s version.  

Across the universe, around the moons of Jupiter, an advanced civilization of evolved cybernetic organisms called moravecs (named after roboticist Hans Moravec, perhaps) detect unusual quantum activity around Mars and send an expedition to investigate.  Once they get to Mars, they are attacked by a strange figure on a chariot and everyone is killed except two of them, the tiny child-like Mahnmut, from Europa, and Orphu, from Io, a claw-like creature with a scarred and pitted surface and a love for Proust.  (Mahnmut prefers Shakespeare.)

Now telling you how these stories interact, and all the other elements that make these books work, would take another five pages, and the books do a better job explaining it that I ever could.  But they are epic, meaty, excellent books.  Dan Simmons has outdone his Hyperion cantos, and completely rewritten what can be done with an alternate worlds scenario, and he did it with lyrical precision and literary aplomb.  

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Music Minute

This track is from a new band called Dark New Day.  I don’t know a damn thing about them, but they have a good sound and this one, called “Brother” has that soft-heavy dynamic that I love.  You can hear it in Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Green Day’s “Longview.”  You know you love it too.  If you had to describe it in one word, I think explosive would do.

Update: Dark New Day is the new band of the Lowery brothers, Clint and...well, his brother. Clint Lowery used to be in Sevendust, and his brother was in Stereomud. In other words, the band has a pedigree.

Monday, August 29, 2005

Wal-Mart

I love the internet.  

So I’ve been commenting on Huffington Post a lot and it’s actually been kind of cool.  I don’t know how many times I’ve done this, but sometimes it gets some interesting results.  The author of one post sent me an e-mail after a comment and we had a nice little exchange.  It’s nice to give and get feedback, I think.

Today there was a post on Wal-Mart…the dreaded Wal-Mart.  Lots of people don’t like Wal-Mart, but I love it.  You don’t go to Wal-Mart for everything, but for things like shaving cream, dogfood, DVDs, toys, toilet paper, bath towels, Wal-Mart can’t be beat.

Here was my comment to the post:
I don't understand all the Wal-Mart bashing. Okay, so they don't pay so much. Okay, so they have a huge market share that threatens smaller businesses. Okay, they aggressively take over every community that allows them to build a store. Okay, they're not unionized. So they don't sell CDs with parental advisory stickers.
But....somehow Wal-mart has found a way to operate intelligently using the latest information technology so that they can respond instantly to customer demand, resulting in lower prices.
Despite some of the negative aspects of their business, Wal-Mart has been a net positive for our country and here's hoping that continues.
Annette said in a response which I can only assume was directed at me:
the way Walmart finds a way to sell their products at a lower price than the other chains is: 60% of their products come from China, 15% or the products labeled "made in America" are manufactured in Marianas. Marianas Island has sweat shops that rival the labor camps of the Third Reich. That's how Walmart sells for less. The remaining 25% comes from our NAFTA and CAFTA trade partners. They make approximately 59 cents an hour.
Any more questions?
And then some poetry from someone named “_food_ on,” who called me by name:
James -Have you ever been to the crumbling homogeneous wasteland that is midwestern America? Walmart is to blame for a significant decay in the quality of life and economic diversity of small to mid-sized communities. It is Walmart policy to facilitate government services for their chronically undercompensated employees. But they aren't completely to blame for their cancerous effect. The consumer is also to blame for suckling at the sweet-tasting poisonous teat of low low prices. It should prove interesting when they've had their fill, ripped a satisfied belch, and taken a look at the wasteland created by their collective shortsightedness.
Beth said:
When was the last time YOU were in a Wal-Mart? The aisles are filled with second-rate knock off products from China - not the U.S. And who do you think pays for the healthcare of those underpaid Wal-Mart employees?
And finally, George Henson said:
James,
Thanks for that talking point. If your superiors are reading the blog, you might get promoted to team-leader. Unfortunately, if you did work for Wal-Mart and criticized them, you would be summarily fired. Wal-Mart does not provide low prices for the reason you mentioned; they do so because they are predatory, do not pay over-time or market wages, force their employees to opt out of company insurance...I could go on.
I'm tickled to death you enjoy a bargain, but it comes at a very high price.
All in all, Wal Mart is probably the single worst corporate citizen in the US, and one of the worst in the world.
I suggest reading Nickel and Dimed -- or you could take a month off your current job, go to work for Wal-Mart, and see if your opinion changes.
Nice blog, George.  Or should I call you Jorge?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Shoot to Kill

I know I said I wasn't going to post on Bush or the war, but that was before I read Frank Rich's column this morning in the NYT. Here are a few choice nuggets:

And what exactly is our task? Mr. Bush's current definition - "as the Iraqis stand up, we will stand down" - could not be a better formula for quagmire. Twenty-eight months after the fall of Saddam, only "a small number" of Iraqi troops are capable of fighting without American assistance, according to the Pentagon - a figure that Joseph Biden puts at "fewer than 3,000." At this rate, our 138,000 troops will be replaced by self-sufficient locals in roughly 100 years.

Now that's what I call progress....

In the interest of fairness (or better yet, the cold hard truth), Rich doesn't pull any punches for the Democrats either.

If there's a moment that could stand for the Democrats' irrelevance it came on July 14, the day Americans woke up to learn of the suicide bomber in Baghdad who killed as many as 27 people, nearly all of them children gathered around American troops. In Washington that day, the presumptive presidential candidate Hillary Clinton held a press conference vowing to protect American children from the fantasy violence of video games.

Ouch.

I mean, let's admit it here...

The American people are in a no-win situation politically. The Republicans are prepared to engage the country in war without end (think occupied Israel or Northern Ireland, both of which seem to be coming to an end now.....but after how many generations again?), and they're willing to bankrupt us to do it. The Democrats are prepared to do....apparently nothing, nothing useful anyway, unless you calling scrambling for re-election "useful." Of course...once elected, then the do-nothing cycle starts afresh.... (Politics in this country isn't about governing, anymore. It's about getting elected and paying off your benefactors. That's a cynical view, I know, but show me how I'm wrong.)

As far as I'm concerned, both parties can fuck off, and that's putting it nicely....


Finally, some good news....

Suge Knight has been shot. Unfortunately, it was only in the leg and he is expected to make a full recovery.

My question though is this: If you're going to shoot Suge Knight, why not aim a little higher? I mean, now he's going to have a limp and he's going to get a pimp cane and when he finds you, he's going to shove it up your ass.

Shoot to kill. Always shoot to kill.