Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Oh, dear god, he's starting with the damn poems again.

Well, no, not really.  Two of my classes are now focusing on poetry, so I thought I'd post a couple things.  The first is a poem I wrote in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet:

                                                  Called on by the court from their quiet lives,
                                                  So as to aid a friend long forgotten.
                                                  Leaving behind neither children nor wives,
                                                  They ne'er suspected something was rotten.

                                                  'Twas Madness or love, or perhaps the two,
                                                  What wrote these men into a fiendish plot.
                                                   But having no past and not much to do,
                                                   Hopes of avoiding tragedy were shot.

                                                   'Twas a sea of troubles swallowed them whole,
                                                   Casting the two adrift and all alone.
                                                   Having good intentions yet being dull,
                                                   They soon arrived at that country unknown.

                                                   Sad as it may be, there ne'er was a chance,
                                                   For poor old Guildenstern and Rosencrantz.

If you're familiar with Hamlet, you'll remember the minor characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern.  But this sonnet also relates to the Tom Stoppard play Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, and as such, much of it can be read two ways.  For example, in line 12, if you're thinking of Hamlet, the word dull means uninteresting, if you're thinking of R & G Are Dead, it means foolish.  

As a reward for reading my poetry, here's Alan Rickman reading "My Mistress' Eyes Are Nothing Like the Sun."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"The Giver": An Anti-Communist Interpretation

“The Giver,” is a young adult/tween novel by Lois Lowry, published in 1993.  Like many people my age, I first read “The Giver” in middle school English.  Recently, I reminisced on it, only to discover that it had a quite blatant anti-communism theme.  Now, I’m not one of those people that finds political messages in everything (and I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the United States Communist Party).  But in the case of “The Giver,” I think the facts speak for themselves.

If you are unfamiliar with the book, it focuses a boy named Jonas.   It is a dystopian novel, the society initially appearing completely at peace.  In the society he lives in when children turn 12 (all at the same time) they are assigned to the job they will have for the rest of their lives, based on their skills.  Jonas is selected as the “Receiver of Memories,” where he receives the memories of the human race from “The Giver of Memories.”  It is during this process that Jonas (and the reader) discover some of the unpleasantness behind the idyllic civilization.  The community (run by a council of elders) has removed color and music and individuality.  The very elderly and undesirable are “released” (i.e. euthanized).  The story ends with Jonas fleeing his home with a baby that was going to be released.

Let’s take a look at the society.  No form of currency is ever discussed, nor is bartering.  Each family is limited to two children, and even then, these children are the offspring of designated “birth mothers.”  The people are assigned to a job for which they are not paid, but everything is provided for them.
At the outset, the community sounds great (it’s a false utopia, what do you expect?).  A system in which there’s no sickness or pain, and no one is poor or hungry?  That’s a child’s understanding of a communist society.  But then the dark machinations that keep that society running are revealed.

The people are devoted only to the community.  Sexuality (“the stirrings”) is inhibited, as are any romantic relationships. Couples are paired based on temperament.  The only devotion anyone has is to the community and its continued well-being.  When people get too old to be on the work force, they are moved to a nursing home, and are eventually released (compare to the paranoid delusions about “death panels”).

An interesting point of symbolism is Jonas’s gaining the ability to see color.  This happens one color at a time, and (maybe coincidentally, but I doubt it) the first color he sees is red.

A completely secular community where there is no system of currency, people are assigned to jobs, strict birth rate control, and a fiercely collectivist ideology?  It’s basically an exaggerated version of Red China. And when the protagonist realizes the charade, he up and leaves.

I’m not out to criticize Lowry or take sides on economic and social ideologies.  I don’t know if Lowry intended to embed an anti-communist message in her book, but it’s definitely there.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Political Photoshop

Pretty self explanatory.  I took this movie poster:

And made this:

Why Twilight (the movie) sucks

I did not like “Twilight” for a myriad of reasons.  The poor acting and the unnecessary voice-overs were partly responsible for my attitude, but the most egregious offender was the erratic and often incomprehensibly stupid actions and decisions of the characters. In fact, a majority of the conflict in the film could have been averted if the characters were not suffering from a dearth of common sense.  This refusal to utilize even the most rudimentary mental facilities challenged my suspension of disbelief more than the premise of  friendly Northwestern vampires.  Every character is guilty of this at some point.

Bella’s father exhibits erratic behavior when he decides to go to another county to help them investigate an animal attack.  Meaning that he’s abandoning his city to no conceivable benefit to anyone.  But his greatest blunder is in the investigation of the murder victim in Forks.  He finds a footprint in the meadow and,  with no other information or evidence, decides that a) the foot print belongs to the killer and b) the killer is no longer in Forks therefore c) he stops investigating the death of his friend.

When Bella meets Jacob at the beach, he tells her that there is a secret myth in the Quileute tribe.  The myth is that in exchange for not hunting on Quileute land, the Quileute people will not reveal the Cullens’ true nature.  This secrecy is the foundation for their truce.  Yet there are readily available books containing this story, identifying the true nature of the Cullens.    If the truce is so important, why was the myth published?  Why didn’t the Quileute people buy or destroy all the copies of said books?

The Cullens themselves are not much brighter than the other characters.  When Edward brings Bella to his home, he explains that the family always enrolls in high school so that they can claim to be teenagers and stay in one place longer.  It is worth remembering that being around living people is a serious temptation for the Cullens, which makes it so much more baffling that they hadn’t decided on homeschooling.  Another example of the Cullens’ lack of basic cognitive abilities comes at the end of the climactic fight scene.  Bella has been bitten, and someone needs to suck the venom out.  Carlisle (who has successfully shown restraint while drinking the blood of the living on multiple occasions) asks Edward (who has stated that his desire for Bella’s blood is greater than anything he’s ever experienced) to suck the venom out of Bella’s blood, despite being perfectly capable of doing it himself, thus putting her in unnecessary danger.

Even Bella’s mother displays her inherent ineptitude when she meets Bella at the hospital after the climax.  According to her, the Cullens had explained that her injuries (serious blood loss, deep cuts, bruises and probably broken bones) were due to “falling down two flights of stairs and out a window.”  (I'm guessing this was after she walked into a door.)  While I wouldn’t expect her to assume that Bella was injured during a vampire battle in a ballet studio, any rational individual would have assumed domestic abuse.  Especially since, as far as Bella’s father knew, she had just broken up with Edward and run off.

But it is Bella who really ruins things.  Edward spends considerable time and energy explaining to her that he is incredibly dangerous and wants to hurt her, and she chooses to stay by his side regardless of his pleas that she do otherwise.  It is hard to sympathize with Bella when she’s in trouble, because she had been given enough warning and opportunity to avoid said trouble.

All the characters behave in a way that makes no sense, so long as it is convenient to the plot.  This makes the story seem, at the best, contrived, and at the worst, imbecilic.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Outdated Movie Review: Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is a South Korean film, and the first part of Park Chan-wook’s “Revenge Trilogy” (it’s a trilogy in terms of theme, the stories don’t connect).  While Old Boy (2003) is unquestionably more famous, I believe that Sympathy is the superior film.

It is very rare for me to see a film, and be left speechless.  Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance is as much a tragedy as it is a revenge story, maybe even more so.  While I’ll admit, I’m not a very good judge of acting unless it’s very good or very bad, none of the actors were bad.  Song Kang-ho (who played Park), in my opinion, particularly stood out.

The violence is over the top sometimes, but it is by no means obtrusive nor is it detrimental to the movie as a whole.

The movie stands out due to its story.  In almost every revenge story, from Hamlet to a Liam Neeson action flick, there is an obvious bad guy.  This villain will often be given some sympathetic aspect, but in the end the audience knows who to root for.  Not so in Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance.  This is a revenge story about good people who make bad decisions, and the damage those decisions cause to themselves and the people they care about.

5% Comic

I'm calling this a five percent comic because I only expect about five percent of the people who see it will get the joke.  Of the people that get the joke, I estimate that only five percent will think it's funny.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

4 Things You Didn't Know Had Sequels

#4 Lola by The Kinks

This is arguably the Kinks’ most famous song.  It’s a first person story about a nervous protagonist with no experience with women who, at a “club down in North SoHo” is picked up by the eponymous Lola, who is a transvestite.  Ray Davies, who wrote the song (released in 1970), says that it was based on an actual encounter between the band manager and a transvestite.

The Sequel: Destroyer by The Kinks

Released in 1981, Destroyer picks up where Lola left off, as the protagonist is wracked with paranoia upon bringing Lola back to his place.

#3 The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

Published in chapters in 1844, The Three Musketeers is one the most famous novels of the Romantic Period.  Even people who know nothing about the book's story, characters, or background, know the famous line, “All for one, one for all!”

The Sequels: Twenty Years After, The Vicomte de Bragelonne, Louise de la Vallière, and The Man in the Iron Mask.

Published one year after The Three Musketeers, Twenty Years After takes place (spoiler) twenty years after the events of the first book.  The series is often considered a trilogy, because the last three books were published serially (1847-1850) as one volume, despite each part being a similar length to the original novel.

#2 Space Oddity by David Bowie

Released in 1969, Space Oddity is one of Bowie’s biggest hits, and the success of the single led to his second album being titled Space Oddity.  Simply put, it tells the story of an astronaut (Major Tom) who loses contact with ground control and control of his ship.

The Sequel: Major Tom (Coming Home) by Peter Schilling

Originally released only in German (1983), it was recorded and released in English about ten months later.  A quintessential ‘80s song, Major Tom (Coming Home) tells the story of (spoiler) Major Tom coming home. As an interesting side-note, both Space Oddity and Major Tom (Coming Home) were covered for Lincoln commercials.

#1 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

First published in 1884, Huckleberry Finn is considered by many (including myself) to be one of the greatest pieces of American literature.  The sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn follows the fate of the titular character, a child from the pre-civil war deep south, as he flees from his abusive father with the help of Jim, a runaway slave.

The Sequels: Tom Sawyer Abroad; Tom Sawyer, Detective

Published in 1894 and 1896, respectively, Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective, were widely considered to be far inferior to the original two books.  The first takes place just after the conclusion of Huckleberry Finn, and features Huck, Tom, and Jim, sent to Africa in a bizarre hot-air balloon, where they have many confusing adventures.  Tom Sawyer, Detective has Huck Finn playing Watson to Sawyer’s Sherlock Holmes, as he narrates Tom Sawyer (spoiler) being a detective.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Weird, Experimental Short Story

    In the cities, don’t go looking for stars in the night sky.  We’ve washed them off.  A few have managed to hold on, but they don’t bother anyone.  They hang around while the moon slides past and deposits itself in the horizon.  Then they fade as the sun takes over.

    Rotate.  Revolve.  Repeat.

    The sun also sets, igniting the sky behind it.  A flare, a beacon, a message that only the stars can read.  But we’ve taken the stars.  The orange orb sinks behind the waves and the purples and pinks turn to black, while the silver disc begins its nocturnal ascent.  The stars come out.  We took most of them.  We didn’t destroy them, or erase them.  We brought them to Earth.

    The moon conquers the treeline.  Polaris, Sirius, and Canopus report for duty.  Rigel’s there too, but you can’t see him.  They stay in their stations and watch, unblinking.  On earth, they see Procyon.  Stumbling out of a bar, taking a swing at the photographers.  They turn their attention to Capella A, dancing close with Regulus.  Capella B is at home, suspecting but unsure.  The moon passes its apex.  Pollux is over one-hundred stories tall.  Merak overdosed in the lobby.  The moon is swallowed by the end of the earth, and the sun is regurgitated from the opposite end.

    Rotate.  Revolve.  Repeat.

    Rigel didn’t report.   Polaris and Canopus expected as much.  Sirius had held out hope.  No one cranes their neck to look at the stars.  It used to just be in the cities.  But the world has become too bright.  Rigel picks up a microphone at a dive bar, a crowd there to listen.  The moon approaches the climax of its arc.  Canopus will be next.  There’s an inventor in Baltimore.  After that, it will be Sirius.  The moon falls.  Polaris will be last.  We’ve used Polaris for centuries, but that too must end.  The sun erupts from the east.

    Rotate.  Revolve.  Repeat.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

When Technology Surpasses Its Usefulness

One of the greatest philosophical questions of the digital age is as follows: At what point does technology surpass its usefulness?  I believe that the answer is: When the technology makes a task more difficult than the method it is replacing.  But I come here with more than an opinion on a philosophical question.  I have proof.   

It may look like an ordinary washing machine, but look closer.  Where do I insert change?

That’s right.  It doesn’t accept actual currency.  It also doesn’t accept credit cards.  It requires the user to go to a machine (not located in the same building as the laundry room) and exchange money for a prepaid card.  A prepaid card that is only good for the washing machines and dryers.  I didn’t have much choice so I went to the nearest machine.

I selected the “buy card” option (the card itself costs $2, which is more than it costs to wash and dry a load of laundry), and entered a $1 bill.  The digital readout said, “Bill Value: 1.00 – Bill not accepted.”  I tried multiple bills, but met no success.  Defeated, I went to a different building to a different machine.

Long story short, I had use my debit card, to buy a card so I could pay to do laundry.  The problem this could be argued to solve (money inside the washing machines needing to be collected/getting stolen) is solved by installing multiple new machines, at least one of which holds money. 

Well, that's the end of my rant.  I'm on my way to find whoever came up with this horrible idea and give him/her a taste of Occam's razor. 

Friday, February 3, 2012

Ghost, Writer

                        Stanley Reed propped his head up with his elbow and massaged his forehead with his knuckles.  “Think!” he commanded himself, the blank page on his monitor waiting to be filled.  “Think!” he tried again, clenching his eyes shut, hoping to find inspiration on the back of his eyelids.  A light bulb went on.  Literally.  Figuratively, he was still completely in the dark, but in reality, the light in the bathroom of his shitty studio apartment had turned on. 

            This wasn’t the first time that a crackhead had broken into his home, so when Stanley grabbed a hammer from underneath his writing desk and walked the four paces past the bedroom to the bathroom, knocked on the door, and shouted, “I know you’re in there!” he was startled to hear a voice reply in a calm fashion and Brooklyn accent, “Good.  I thought I was being too subtle.  Come in.”

            Despite his better judgment and the better judgment of most rational individuals, Stanley opened the door to the bathroom.  It was empty.  He spun around looking until he got dizzy and stopped.  The room didn’t get that memo and kept on spinning.  “I’m up here!” said the voice.  Sure enough, lying on the ceiling with his face to the floor, the man who had called floated with a big grin on his face.  “My name’s Roger.  Nice to meet you.”

            Stanley thought he would faint, but realized that he didn’t have the resolve to go through with it, instead opting to spout gibberish.  “But…how…I don’t…Wha…”

            “Get it all out of your system now,” Roger said, slowly rotating until his feet were aiming at the floor.  “If you don’t come to terms with it now, you’re going to wake up one day and have a real breakdown.  This one guy I knew, heh, he just ran out when he saw me.  Tried to pretend it didn’t happen.  A week later, he gets out of bed, decides he’s still dreaming, and jumps off the roof of his building.  He’s a nice guy, but not much in the brains department.” 

            “You…you’re a…you’re…” Stanley stammered.

            “I’m a… what?” Roger smirked.

            “Uh, a ghost.” Stanley managed to say.  It felt so good to say it.  There was no uncertainty about it now.  He was talking to a ghost.  Or he was completely insane, but he was pretty sure he was talking to a ghost.

            Roger descended to the floor, the soles of his translucent sneakers passing through the dull linoleum. “Damn straight,” he said. Questions darted through Stanley’s head like a swarm of bees, each taking a jab at his psyche.  Only one stuck.

            “Why?” he asked.

            Roger raised an eyebrow, “Why what?  Why am I a ghost?  Why I am I here?”  Stanley stared vacantly.  Roger rolled his eyes.  He could see through the top of his own skull when he did that, and even after eight years of being a ghost, he still thought that was pretty neat.

            “I guess the first one,” Stanley muttered.

            “Why am I a ghost?” Roger said.

            “Yeah, that one.”

            “I’m a ghost because I died.” Roger shrugged.  Stanley turned on his heel and made to leave the bathroom. “Wait!” Roger shouted.  He did.  “Sorry.  Ghost humor.  I was in college.  I wanted to be a published writer, then, well…” Stanley turned around.  He felt sorry for the specter in his bathroom.

            “Go on,” Stanley said gently.

            Roger sniffled, “There was a car accident.  No one’s fault, really.  Some guy’s tires blew out, and I swerved right into a statue of some founding father or other.  I think it was Samuel Johnson but I don’t know.”

            “What then?”

            “Then I died, genius.” Roger snapped.

            “Sorry.” Stanley whimpered.

            “Naw,” Roger said, “It’s okay.”  They stood in silence for a minute or two.  Roger shuffled his feet and said, “Do you want to know why I’m here?”

            “Yeah.” Stanley answered.

            “I’ve been watching you.  You got some good stories, but you just gotta get your foot in the door before you can get them published.”

            “Exactly!” Stanley shouted.  Finally, someone who got it.

            Roger nodded, “And that’s where I come in.  I’ve got some stories; ones that’ll get you the breakthrough you need.  I just want to see them published.”

            Stanley nodded emphatically, “Great!” he said, “Tell me all about it.”  So Roger did.

            It was good.  No, that’s not true.  It was fantastic.  It had intrigue, romance, action.  There were affairs and fistfights and even a few murders.  And two months after Roger told Stanley the story for the first time, the tale of the evil Mr. Norton Lindquist and his sordid life was number three on the New York Times Bestseller’s list, and Stanley Reed was famous.

            And that is how he ended up in a Barnes & Noble’s in Raleigh, getting ready to read excerpts and sign books for his adoring fans.  He was in the bookstore’s bathroom, straightening his tie in the mirror.  Roger hovered by his side.  “Give ‘em hell,” he said, beaming with pride.

            Stanley smiled, picked a piece of spinach out of his teeth, and smiled again.  “Will do, buddy.”  He gave himself one last look-over.  “You ready,” he asked.  Roger became invisible.       
 “As I’ll ever be,” said his voice from somewhere in the room. 

            Stanley walked out of the bathroom, past the humor section, the biographies, and the coffee table books, to where a few dozen folding chairs sat, occupied by an excited and impatient crowd.  The chairs were all directed towards a table with fifty copies of his book on it.  One copy had a light blue post-it sticking out at page 182.  Stanley opened the book to that page, and read aloud:

“I am a gentleman of refined taste,” said Norton, “Do you see the paintings I allow to grace my presence?  Matisse.  Renoir.  Picasso.  Cezanne.  I surround myself with greatness, Ms. Gray, because anything else would be an insult.  I would not suffer the works of a master to be defiled in the home of a lesser man, nor should I have my greatness befouled by anything below me.  It is indecent, if not immoral, to lower myself by association with something so far beneath me.  Like you, Ms. Gray.

“While I do allow things of lesser worth into my home, it is only temporary.  Like toilet paper, or light bulbs.  They serve their purpose and are disposed of.  So you may pack your bags, Ms. Gray.  And leave my sight.”

            Stanley closed the book with a dramatic flourish.  The crowd applauded.  Except for one man in the back, who simply raised his hand.  Stanley pointed at him, “Questions?”

            The man stood up.  A gaunt man, elegantly dressed in a shockingly expensive suit.  He had silver hair slicked back. He had a British accent. “Yes.” He said.  “Where did you get the inspiration for this story?”
            Stanly smirked.  “Sometimes things just come to you.”

            The man grimaced.  “Bull shit.” 

            Some of the more prudish of the guests gasped, some chuckled, but all were uncomfortable.

            The man smiled in hatred, reached into his shirt, and pulled out a revolver.  “Do you know how I know you’re lying?” he asked, leveling the weapon at Stanley’s head. 

            Stanley gulped.  “N…Nuh…N…No.” He whimpered.

            The man cocked the revolver. “Because I’m Norton Lindquist!” He screamed, and fired. 

            People fled the bookstore en masse.  All except for Roger and Stanley. Stanley hovered over to Roger.  “What the fuck!” Stanley screamed.  “Why!  Why did you give me a true story!”

            Roger stared at his shoes, “Well,” he said, “I was a journalism major.”