Thursday, March 26, 2009

Things That Give Me Gas

So, I drop my kids at school this morning and I've got the radio on and I hear this ad. Scroll down to the radio ads and play Massive New Taxes on Energy.

Since I'm in the entertainment industry, maybe I listen to these things in a different way, because I'm usually trying to critically deconstruct media to see if there are particular techniques I want to use in something I'm working on. So maybe the irony of the ad doesn't strike you. The irony of the petroleum industry trying to dodge taxes by putting together a reactionary, fear-mongering ad. The irony of the ad running in the same week as the anniversary of the Valdez disaster.

Perhaps the record profits that oil companies have been racking up have escaped your notice. Could it be that you don't realize those profiteering companies fill the automobiles produced by the very same auto industry the government is currently propping up? Don't you get that your tax dollars are fueling (pardon the pun) the same industry that's spending millions of dollars on advertising to get us to help them avoid taxes?

If you've been reading this blog at all, you understand that it's not exactly a small list, that list of things that piss me off. And I don't want to sound like a total wingnut. If you drive a truck or SUV for some business, I've really got no problem with you. On the other hand, if you're a single suburban salary-boy or girl, do you really need all that steel to drive your ass back and forth to work? Don't you see you're part of the problem? You're not keeping Detroit and its workers in business, you're keeping Exxon and its shareholders rolling in green. While the economy is in a downward spiral.

The old adage used to be middle-aged men in sports cars were trying to compensate for something. What about all the 110-lb women driving Yukons or Hummers? What are they compensating for?

Ask yourself this: when the auto industry goes under (SAAB, anyone?), who do you think is going to be in line for the next round of bailouts? When Exxon comes calling, will we have the courage to ask them what happened to all their windfall profits that they never re-invested in R&D or alternative energies?

Don't listen to their ads, this is not an industry that needs government protection; the consumers have been protecting them for too long. Don't listen to their simple-minded patriotic appeals: it's not the American way to shelter a profiteering company and its shareholders. They are not a grass-roots non-profit company looking out for your future. They're one of the few industries not feeling the pinch, yet, and they're making money off of people who don't want to take responsibility for their actions, and they're raping the planet while we fiddle.

Monday, March 23, 2009

In The Details

When I was a kid, I wanted nothing more than to draw comics. Somewhere in my mom's house are a number of old sketch books filled with pencil-smeared doodles of Conan and Iron Man and Batman. Over the years, my desire to draw gradually subsided and naturally, I never became a penciller extrordinaire. You know why? It wasn't because I lacked talent. I can sit down and really draw something if I want to. No, I blame it on the details.

When I was drawing, I'd hit a point where it was good enough for me, even though I knew it wasn't "right" or "done". I was satisfied with the broad strokes, I couldn't be bothered to stick with any picture until all the details were in line. That's how I knew I wasn't cut out to be an artist: I could let it slide. If you find a true passion, you don't let that happen.

Take writing, for instance.

The details matter to me, when I'm committing myself in print. My writing is an expression of my inner self that I want to reflect positively on me and those associated with me. So I take care to get the details straight. Little things -- like punctuation, grammar, and spelling -- aren't optional. There isn't a computer made that doesn't have a spell-check on it, so why aren't people using it? I come into contact with a fair number of would-be writers and it's appalling the number of them that can't put a basic English sentence together.

You could blame texting, claim we're training a tribe of sub-literate thumb-monkeys from grade-school when we give them their first cell phones. (What do 3rd graders really have to say to each other that requires constant connectivity? Nothing nice, I bet.) You could blame the internet, e-mail, twitter, even blogging (there's my daily dose of post-modern self-reflexiveness). But I use all that stuff and I still manage to be coherent in most formats. I also know the difference between a tweet and a film script or novel or adademic paper. I know what the details look like, because I pursue them daily.

If you don't crave to understand, master, and manipulate those details... well, you really shouldn't be thinking about being a writer. I refuse to read your non-sensical prattle, because I have no desire to teach you something you should have learned in the fourth grade. If you don't want it bad enough, if you can let it slide, you won't ever be a writer. So make up your mind and adjust your priorities. This is not easy work.

But God's in the details, and I'm looking.

Monday, March 16, 2009

This. Must. Stop.

As I was sitting around Sunday, listening to the sounds of the rest of my family struggling with a stomach virus, I almost voluntarily joined them when I saw the front page of the New York Times bearing the news that AIG is poised to pay bonuses to the very guys who brought their company to the brink of ruin. If the taxpayers hadn't bailed the company out -- twice -- AIG would have gone over that brink and other companies would gleefully be picking over the financial carcass by now.

I'm not gonna go through the article point by point, because my head would explode. You can read the full article here if you want. Let's just keep our eye on the big balls, shall we?

1. The "financial products unit" is the part of AIG that had all the worthless debt, that caused a lot of the mess the country is in now. Six of the execs who presided -- and still preside -- over that unit stand to get bonuses of 3 million dollars. This makes perfect sense, right? Because at your job, if you fuck up the entire company and cause devastating aftershocks throughout the world, you should get rewarded. That's what would happen to me, and I'd be so callous, greedy, and contemptous of my fellow man that I'd take it. Sure. In reality, I'd be sent to jail, which is exactly where these mother-fuckers should go. Let 'em use their 3 mil to pay legal fees.

2. AIG is "contractually bound" to pay these bonuses. Oddly enough, the only people whose bonuses have been reduced are those who work outside the financial products unit, ie the parts of the company that weren't skewering the economy. That's fair, too, right? As to the "contractual" obligations, the Times also reports that the US Government essentially owns %80 of AIG, which means we can do whatever we want. It's our company now. Break the damn contracts. If those pricks want to sue someone for their bonuses, let 'em try to sue the government and see how far they get.

3. The chairman of AIG had the unmitigated gall to write to the Treasury complaining that AIG needs to "attract and retain the best and the brightest talent" and that these bonuses are part of that effort and that the government shouldn't "arbitrarily" adjust compensations, or else the talent will go away. Maybe I don't get it, but when AIG had unrestricted control over the executive compensation, they hired men who swindled large blocks of society. Is that the best and brightest? If so, let's take it down a notch to the "competent and honest" category. AIG is in no position to dictate how the government bails it out. If I go to my bank, tell them I'm going to build an addition on my house, get a loan, then blow it on crack whores, I'm betting the bank would come after me with both barrels blazing. We really should lock and load on these executive criminals. It's our money, and our company, now. If you don't like it, turn out the lights, 'cause it's over.

I can't stand this any more. It must stop. I'm writing to my representatives as soon as this posts and I urge you to do the same.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

High Anxiety

It's been quite a week at Casa Scriptking. Let's just say we've got a bit of anxiety floating around my place. One of us has a hospital date tomorrow, and the effect on the rest of us has been pronounced. Under the circumstances, the anxiety is perfectly understandable. Its cause is known, identifiable. Yet, the anxiety persists in all its nefarious glory.

Night sweats. Disrupted sleep patterns. Constricting bands of irrational fear. Inability to focus. Alternatively, an ability to focus only on very narrow things. A relentlessly negative attitude. Depression. Paranoia. Rage. An anxiety attack is no picnic.

One of the worst things about it is everyone sort of shuts down and stops communicating. That's about the worst thing you can do, because it just feeds all the negative feelings of isolation.

Why should anyone be interested in my own slice of irrational behavior? Have you looked at the headlines lately? There's a lot of people who are in a really bad way right now, and there's gonna be more. I can't imagine what the anxiety level must be like for someone who is about to lose (or has already lost) their job, their home, maybe even their family. There's not a lot of good news coming down the pike.

So let's take a deep breath, try and calm down, and find a little compassion for the person next to you. They may just be a little anxious.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Watch This

Just to avoid the inevitable individual questions people will ask me, I'm going to add this to the blog and get it over with all at once. I'm going to commit to electronic paper my thoughts on Watchmen.

If you're a fanboy, stop reading now, because I don't need any more death marks on my head.

In full disclosure, although I've been reading comics for decades, I've never been a Watchmen devotee. I read it when it first appeared - I've got all the issues tucked away in plastic somewhere, as well as the first leather-bound compendium - but never quite understood the amount of worship it still inspires.

So, when I went to the first IMAX show of the morning, I really wasn't expecting all that much. What I got was both more and less than even those mediocre expectations. This film looks beautiful, with loving detail to every stylized pose, an animated lighting kick on every drop of the copious amounts of blood. In my theater, the sound alone was worth the price of admission. The performances were great, even in the small, thankless roles. Individual moments of this film are brilliant. And yet, and yet...

It's just too damn long. By the time all the monologuing by Ozymandias and Dr. Manhattan arrives at the climax, I wondered if anyone realized how far into self-parody it had all slipped. Maybe it would be okay if everyone wasn't so glum, and if everyone hadn't taken the whole business so seriously.

A story that was originally delivered in monthly installments, and paced accordingly, cannot be consumed straight up in 2 hours and 43 minutes. The screenwriters should have acknowledged the different medium, and instead of using the comic as unbreakable blueprint, reformed the story for the screen. My choice would have been to let Rorschach loose with his cleaver on much of the backstory.

It's also too damn bloody. Ask anyone, I'm not squeamish, I'm down for a bit of the old ultra-violence, but when I have to look away from the screen... there's something really off kilter. It creates a tone break with other parts of the film that drags the viewer out of the story entirely. It also made me scared for humanity when the guys in the row behind me were groaning orgasmically at every rending of a human being. That's what they came for, apparently.

And yes, the blue animated penis on Dr. Manhattan is distracting. Ditto the "greatest boomer hits" soundtrack.

The moments of grandeur, like when Night Owl and Silk Spectre suit up and go crime-hunting, or when Rorschach faces down an entire prison, are definitely there, but they can't quite overcome the need for a lot of cumbersome exposition.

In the end, if you like the graphic novel, you won't be disappointed in the movie. If you don't know or don't care about the graphic novel, the film will strike you the same way.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Sci-Fi In My Eye

Coolest thing I've heard today:

A bunch of cutting-edge eye surgeons have figured out a silicon implant retina that connects to the optic nerve and wirelessly receives input from glasses worn externally. These guys are curing blindness.

Twenty-five years ago, when William Gibson wrote Burning Chrome, he created a character that has her eyes replaced with implant cameras - "Zeiss Ikon" eyes - in hopes of becoming a media star. It all seemed so far away, so ridiculously high-tech. Now, we're living it. Sure the technology isn't quite "there," yet. But now we can see there from here.

Gibson imagined it, scientists are creating it, society reaps the benefit. Why aren't artists and scientists worshiped? Probably because they defy easy packaging and their achievements aren't measured by simple rubrics. Still, we owe them for making the world a better place. Go out and buy a book, or visit your library, and the next time you meet a scientist (they're all around) ask them what they actually do. You may just open a door inside your own head.