Friday, December 31, 2004


My daughter (I should really come up with a clever nickname for her, but all that comes to mind right now is "The Girl") forms instant attachments to all kinds of things. We'll be walking in from the car, she'll bend over to pick up a stick, and I'll say something insufferably parental like, "Put the stick down and let's go in the house." At which point she'll turn to me with this horrified expression on her face and say, "But Sticky wants to come in with me! He'll miss me if I leave him outside!"

At which point, one of two things will happen. Either I'll stick to my guns, and we escalate the thing to an Official Incident which ends with her crying and Sticky lying forlorn on the ground outside, or else I'll relent and Sticky will come inside. If he's lucky, Sticky will be quickly forgotten; more likely, he'll end up broken into tiny fragments and scattered across the carpet. Sticky, Flowery, Leafy, Rocky, Buggy: they all start out as instant best friends and usually end up either abandoned or destroyed (I could say something about this being the way most women approach relationships as well, only I guess guys aren't any better, plus, dude, she's four).

I just dread the day she decides she can't live without her friend Poopy. Before I had a daughter of my own, I wouldn't have seriously thought this possible, but now, I totally do.

I know I'm supposed to treasure every moment, but boy, I hope she gets past this phase soon.

Thursday, December 30, 2004


I haven't said anything about the tsunami because it's one of those things that's so big, what can you really say about it? "Tidal waves are bad?"

So, sticking to what I'm better at, let me just say that I am totally jazzed about "Sin City." Like Raimi on "Spider-Man," Robert Rodriguez is trying to do more than just tell a screen story using the same characters as the comic. He's really trying to make something that feels like reading the comic, by using the same stylized visual approach that the comic uses. This is a tricky thing to pull off. "Spider-Man" and "Spider-Man 2" managed it well, "Creepshow" only kinda'. I hope Rodriguez succeeds. The trailer looks awesome.

Oh, and the music rocks.

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

My One Big Problem with LORD OF THE RINGS

So yesterday, I had the day off from work and spent it watching the Extended Edition of Return of the King, all four hours of it. The movies are an awesome achievement, just staggering in their scale and complexity and the way Jackson tries to balance personal drama against large-scale action. But once I get to the big climax, I remember the one thing that disappointed me about Lord of the Rings above all others.

I read The Hobbit as a young teen and loved it. Then while I was in high school, someone told me I must read the Lord of the Rings trilogy. So I bought the books with some Christmas money (a pattern I've repeated over the past three years with the Extended Edition DVDs) and read them over Christmas vacation.

My reaction was mixed, to say the least. I got past my initial disappointment upon learning that the book did not feature Bilbo as the hero again, and I got past my befuddlement that the simple invisibility gimmick he discovered in The Hobbit is supposed to be some kind of Uberweapon. I got bogged down in the snows of Caradhras Peak, where my enthusiasm waned, but once the fighting began in the mines of Moria, my interest perked back up. As the momentum built, I locked myself in my room and read for hours on end, only coming out for meals. And then I reached the end, and felt short-changed.

Some of this may be my upbringing on comic books and cartoons. I was disappointed that we kept hearing references to the Ring's mighty powers, but never, ever saw a real demonstration of it as a weapon. We kept hearing about Sauron's might, as well, but we never saw him in action, either. I was disappointed by the Scouring of the Shire; Saruman's death was an amazingly touching moment, but it hurt me that these characters went through so much trial, so much hurt, fighting to save their homes, only to discover their homes in ruin when they returned.

But most of all, I was disappointed with the big climax, in which Frodo, alongside whom I'd endured so much pain and misery, especially that almost unbearable stretch across the wastes of Mordor, only to have him say, once he finally reaches his destination, "You know what? Changed my mind." I was disappointed that good only triumphed over evil by accident, because Gollum's a lousy dancer.

Now that I'm older, I understand more what Tolkien was after, I think, but it still disappoints me. I still want Frodo to do the right thing, to maintain his strength for that one extra second it would take to open his hand and let the ring fall of his own free will. I want to be able to sit back after following the story for so long and say, "Ah, now that's the way an adventure should end." I want Frodo to succeed, not simply fail to fail. I think I will want that for the rest of my life.

But how disappointed would I be, I wonder, if someone remade Lord of the Rings and played it out the way I wanted?

Tuesday, December 28, 2004


I wasn't sure what to write here today (sad, isn't it, that the blog's only like, a week old, and I'm already running out of ideas?), and then I read Lileks's blog entry for today, in which he spoke of different funny voices he does that his daughter hates. Sometimes I have the exact opposite problem. (full disclosure: some of what follows is quoted verbatim from my email to Lileks).

I forget which voice I did for my daughter that she first latched onto, but for a while, all she wanted was for me to be anybody but me. Among the repertoire: Shaggy from Scooby Doo, the Professor and Mojo Jojo from Powerpuff Girls, Carl Weezer and Hugh Neutron (Jimmy's dad) from Jimmy Neutron. The voice she hates? Ed from Ed, Edd and Eddie. She keeps demanding I be Eddie, instead, which I can't do nearly as well. And she hates it when I do Billy from Grim Adventures (can you tell we watch a lot of cartoons around here? Perhaps I'm being a bad father by not limiting her TV watching more, but I can't help it; I love cartoons). She will also occasionally demand a voice I can't do, like Sportacus from Lazy Town, Numbuh One from Code Name: Kids Next Door, or the aforemoentioned Eddie. It's frustrating for both of us when I can't deliver.

Almost as frustrating are the bizarre scenarios she comes up with, because she hasn't really developed her improv chops yet.

HER: Daddy, you be Shaggy, and I'll be Velma as a little baby.

ME: (shrug) Okay. (Shaggy voice) Hey look, Scoob, someone left a little baby here. What's your name, little baby?

HER: Goo.

ME: ...

Because where do you go from there, really?

If you need me for the next few days, I'll be locked down in front of the TV, marinating in Lord of the Rings: Return of the King Extended Edition goodness (gotta love post-Christmas sales, not least because that means it's now post-Christmas). I may be writing some LOTR related stuff for the next few days because of it.

And by the way: Gandalf's voice? The girl hates it. And don't even try Gollum.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

"We all owe it to the tank."

So anyway, back to Japanese cartoons...

Many years ago, sometime in the mid- to -late-80's, I was in the mood for some Japanese animation, so I rented something called "Technopolice." I wasn't expecting much out of it, but in those days, if you were an anime fan, you took what you could get (who knew that someday, you'd be able to go to Suncoast and be presented with an entire wall of anime?). I ended up being surprised by something that seemed audacious to me then, and still influences my writing today (not always a good thing).

The movie did not start promisingly. The animation was an average-to-poor example of the state of the art in the early 80's, and there didn't seem to be any story at all. A young man comes to the big city to join the police department. As he arrives, he stumbles into a bank robbery in progress, which he, of course, tries to stop. He's not doing too well when suddenly, the Technopolice arrive (the very group he's come to join). The concept of the Technopolice is to team humans with robot partners, brains combined with brawn. The Technopolice make short work of the robbers, who nevertheless get away.

This opening is followed by a series of vignettes of our hero training with his robot partner, along with his fellow Technopolice. This goes on for a while, and I start to get comfortable with the format of the film; it's going to be a series of cop missions interspersed with scenes of the hero training and getting to know his fellow cops, maybe a budding romance with the cute girl cop.

Then the next episode begins. A top-secret experimental tank is being transported by airplane over the city; inside the tank are the two bumbling bank robbers from the first scene, who are working for some mysterious boss. They start up the tank and blast their way out of the plane's cargo hold, plummeting to the ground. They then try to escape with the tank through the city. Technopolice to the rescue!

Once again, the Technopolice make short work of the robbers and bring the tank to a halt. At this point, I can tell the overall plot will involve the Technopolice learning clues to the mysterious boss's identity with each successive encounter until it is revealed in the dramatic conclusion.

And then the movie makes an unexpected turn. The tank suddenly starts up by itself and drives away. It has an AI system which allows it to operate unmanned in enemy territory. I think, "This is an interesting coda to the episode, but it'd better wrap up soon so they can go back to the main plot." Thing is, "Technopolice" is like "Psycho" in that, once the plot turns, it never goes back. Turns out, the tank diversion is the main plot. They chase that damn tank for like, 40 minutes or something. Just when you think they've got it subdued, the action cranks up higher than ever. The stakes keep increasing, and the heroes keep getting more desperate.

We do find out about the mysterious boss in the end, though. He's apparently a spy for a foreign power who wants the Robotank, or something (memories are a little vague on this). He's waiting in a submarine in the harbor for the tank to arrive (he's had the AI programmed to head for the bay as a back-up in case his henchmen fail to deliver). And just when I'm accepting the fact that the rest of the movie is going to be cops vs. tank, the movie makes a final reversal when the tank somehow decides that the sub in the bay is the real bad guy and starts shooting at it. The tank ends up sinking to the bottom of the bay, but not before it saves the lives of the cops who've been fighting it for most of the movie. At which point our hero utters the line at the top of this post and his female partner offers a little prayer of thanks to the tank for saving them.

See, the thing is, I'd taken writing classes where they'd discussed the importance of reversals, of setting up expectations and then turning things in a different direction, but I'd never seen an example that hit me in the face quite as much as this movie did, maybe just because I wasn't expecting much out of it. But it wasn't just that it threw a scene in a different direction; it took what promised to be a minor plot bump and pushed it, swelled it, escalated it until the diversion became the story. In my screenplay classes, we'd been taught to set up the main conflict of the story as early as possible; this movie threw that idea out the window, and at least for me at that moment, it worked tremendously (again, maybe just because my expectations were so low going in). I've wanted ever since to try something similar, to see if I could pull it off, but I've never quite had the balls.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

Oh, and one more thing...

I'm driving to work this morning, and the Chevy dealership right by the station has this big animated "look at me instead of the road, so that when you wreck your car and need a replacement, we're right here" sign, and what does it say? "Merry Christmas?" No, it says, "Happy Birthday, Jesus."

I try not to be judgmental about people's religion, but this is a bit much, I think. Not offensive so much as just flip and tasteless. It's almost as bad as that fish symbol some businesses feel a need to throw into the corner of all their advertising, like "Hey, buy from us because a portion of every dollar you spend with us goes STRAIGHT TO GOD. It's like you're buying from GOD HIMSELF!"


I've always felt uneasy about Christmas because gift giving has always been this code I've never been able to decipher. Giving gifts was always this burden that my mom would put on me; I didn't know what people really wanted, I couldn't afford to buy good stuff anyway, and it made no sense to me to give people things they didn't want just to be giving them something. But inevitably, that's what I did. People are always getting random, grabbed-at-the-last-second gifts from me because I can't just show up with nothing, can I? It's bad form.

Even worse for a kid, I often got the wrong things. And inevitably, people would be disappointed when I opened a gift and was myself disappointed. This sounds horribly ungrateful (as I was constantly reminded by my mom), because, isn't it the thought that counts?

And of course, the point is that it is the thought that counts. The problem is that the thought is rarely, "I'm going to give this person this thing that he wants and will be thrilled with." More often, it's, "Crap, I have no idea what he wants, but I have to get him something, so I'll just get (insert random toy/item of clothing here) and throw some gift-wrap on it." Is it any surprise this is what I end up doing most Christmases? Is it any surprise this is what most of us do?

Sometimes, my wife takes pity on me and hands me a catalog with a particular item circled. Other years, I'm on my own. Sometimes, I end up aborting to a random sweater or something. Sometimes, I break down and say, "I give up. Just tell me what you want." Other years, I try to be more creative, and a couple of times, I've hit the jackpot. I've tried at times to be creative with the presentation as well, giving decoy gifts or leaving a trail of clues that lead all over the house before ending up at the gift. These things have made for some memorable Christmases, but still, it's my 42nd Christmas. You'd think I would have this down by now, and I just don't. What's wrong with this picture?

This year, by the way, my wife surrendered, too. She said to me, "Let's just bag Christmas for each other and put together care packages for soldiers abroad." So that's what we did. We went shopping for the stuff together, and it ended up being a lot of fun. We did one for a guy, and one for a girl. I slipped a copy of Blue Falcon into the guy package (I figured a guy would get the book more than a female would). It was fun. I don't know if I want to do that every Christmas, but this year, it was a nice change of pace.

And a lot less stressful.

Got to go to work now. Some folks might say it sucks to work on Christmas Day, and if I worked retail someplace, like a QuikTrip, I might agree. But I like working the station on Christmas. Nobody's there; it's very restful.

Friday, December 24, 2004

Christmas Eve

I'll get to the Japanese cartoon eventually, I promise (I can see you nodding and saying, "It's cool, dude, really, take all the time you want getting back to that one"), but I realize that it's Christmas Eve, so perhaps I should write something seasony.

Actually, for me, Christmas Eve for me is not Christmas Eve, but my wife's birthday. This has not been a problem, because the ground rule was set from the beginning (by my wife, and more importantly, my wife's mother) that Wife's Birthday and Christmas were Entirely Separate Events and never the twain should meet. The only real problem is that, instead of smacking myself in the forehead twice a year and saying, "Oh crap, now I've got to come up with a gift idea," I smack myself in the forehead really hard once a year and say, "Oh crap, now I've got to come up with TWO gift ideas." I'm not sure in the long run which is worse for my forehead, and as far as I know, no one in academia has attempted a study yet (not even in California).

I'll probably rant about gifts tomorrow. I guess "Technopolice" will have to wait.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

Not Getting It...

I was actually going to write something about another Japanese cartoon today, but something else caught my attention. I don't want this to become a political blog, but I read this Joan Ryan editorial in yesterday's Tulsa World and had to get this off my chest. I'd link the original, but I don't have registered access, so oh, well.

Her editorial was about the death penalty. Not surprisingly, she's agin' it. I say 'not surprisingly' not because she's a huge liberal (although she writes for the San Francisco Chronicle, so draw your own conclusions), but because you very rarely see anybody write an editorial in favor of the death penalty, basically because it's already the law in many states and why beat a dead horse (so to speak)? Too, I suppose it's rather gauche to argue publicly in favor of state-sanctioned homicide, yet here I go.

Another reason you don't see many arguments in support (and the ones you do see use such dry language as "punishment proportional to the crime") is that there is an almost genetic difference between those in support of the death penalty and those against. The people in favor just "get it," while the people against don't. The ironic thing is that death penalty opponents seem to think the entire argument in favor consists solely of feelings (Ryan's editorial speaks of "grief and fury" and "our worst instincts for revenge") when I'd argue that the opposite is the case. I think the case against the death penalty is entirely based on feelings, and all the many arguments arrayed against it are simply camouflage.

In Ryan's case, she starts out by summoning up the best argument in favor she seems able to think of, a quote by Thomas Aquinas about execution being acceptable because it's for the common good of society. She apparently spent years trying to resolve the views of Aquinas with her own sense that "killing someone to show that killing was wrong did not make sense." She claims to have finally figured it out after seeing the crowds cheer at the announcement that Scott Peterson had received the death sentence.

Her epiphany: Maybe it was acceptable in Aquinas's time, but he lived a long time ago. Things are different now. We can blow him off.

In the course of explaining the Aquinas thing, she rolls out most of the hoary old classics of the anti-death-penalty crowd (I know people who shorten death penalty to DP, but since those letters have another connotation entirely in different circles, I'll avoid abbreviating, thanks). Life in prison is sufficient to remove the criminal from society. The death penalty is not an effective deterrent. Every life has intrinsic value, even a killer's, and two wrongs don't make a right. The left has been serving these up for years, along with the two other crusty old classics, "it costs more to execute than to imprison" and my personal least favorite, "killing the murderer won't bring the victim back." Oh, and I forgot "Thou Shalt Not Kill." Hollow arguments abound.

These arguments have never won many converts because they all miss the point. The point is (and this is so elementary to those who "get it" that they feel it shouldn't need to be explained at all) that actions should have consequences. The value you place on a principle is illustrated by the penalty you impose for violating that principle. Bob Macy, the much-maligned District Attorney for Oklahoma City, got a lot of flak for saying that opposing the death penalty lessened the value of human life. How, opponents asked, could you uphold the value of human life by taking life? Here's how: you uphold the value of human life when you impose the harshest possible penalty for taking it wrongly. If you impose less, you reduce that life's value. Mention this to a death penalty opponent and you'll get a blank look of incomprehension, like a sitcom blonde who's been asked to spell "inconceivable."

This is why the economic argument holds no water. The argument that it costs less to imprison than to execute is usually given in response to the "I don't want my tax dollars going to his room and board; ninety-eight cents' worth of electricity is all I'm willing to give" statement. See, the argument is not really about the amount of money, but about its use (never mind the fact that the real cost of executing is legal fees for all the appeals, which, don't get me started on lawyers). It's simply obscene to some people to be forced to pay for the murderer's housing and food and cable TV and, say it with me, health care. You might as well call up adoption agencies and tell them to stop all this adoption nonsense and just fund abortions instead, because, cheaper..

In the end, though, for opponents of the death penalty, it all comes down to feelings. As Ryan says toward the end of her editorial, "There is something fundamentally wrong with a law that requires ordinary citizens... to bear the burden of deciding whether a fellow citizen lives or dies." Because, you know, you could feel bad and stuff, and exercising civic duties should be pleasant and life-affirming. As usual, it all boils down to "me and my feelings."

Liberals like to label conservatives as hypocrites for fighting against abortion while at the same time fighting for the right to kill murderers. To conservatives, both positions are in complete harmony, because both support a single principle: protection of innocent life (full disclosure: I'm not a hardcore right-to-lifer who believes that life begins at conception, but I am against late-term abortions). We try to protect the most innocent and helpless among us, while demanding the harshest punishment for those who violate that principle. This makes no sense to liberals, whose view seems to be that what the world needs is fewer babies and more murderers, because, cheaper.

On a lighter note, while I was working my job at a TV station today, I saw a news story coming down on the satellite. This consisted of winter footage preceded by a script that could be read by the local anchor person. I didn't read past the first sentence: "Brace yourself for a long, cold winter."

Excuse me, but what planet was the writer of this statement from? Don't TV newspeople have to pay attention to, like, the news? Because from what I've seen, the big story this winter is how warm it's been. It's late December, and in Oklahoma at least, we've only dropped below freezing something like three times. It doesn't look as if this winter will be particularly cold or particularly long (unless it lasts into June or something). I think the "long, cold winter" ship has sailed.

Fun stuff tomorrow, I promise.

Apples and Oranges

Friend of mine showed me a copy of the new "Appleseed" that he'd downloaded from somewhere. This is a new CG animated film from Japan (based on the manga by Masamune Shirow) that is due to be officially released in the US in mid-January. It's a lot of fun, combining serious sci-fi speculation with some killer action featuring bad-ass robots. It's animated with a combination of realistic backgrounds and simplistic character designs that are shaded to look almost like 2D drawings. At first, the styles clash, but once you get swept into the action, you accept the look as normal. In fact, at times, the design looks amazingly like Shirow's comics, which also feature a dichotomy between cartoonish characters and photoreal backgrounds.

Japanese science fiction is a bizarre thing. On the one hand, they can have really astounding production design and mature, speculative plotlines. On the other hand, they have trouble resolving plots, often resorting to a simplistic "love conquers all/trust your guts" homily to wrap everything up.

The plot of "Appleseed" concerns that old staple of the Japanese, conflict between old-style humans and the new-style genetically-engineered Bioroids. To keep the advanced Bioroids from dominating humanity, they've been designed to be sterile and to have drastically shortened lifespans that can only be extended by frequent medical treatments. The Appleseed of the title involves technology which can restore the Bioroids ability to reproduce sexually; this will apparently also give them normal lifespans. Which reminds me of a story...

When I was in Basic Training, there was a rumor that they put saltpeter in our food to keep us from getting sexually aroused, so we would concentrate all our energy on training. One of our drill sergeants spent what seemed like an hour one evening putting the lie to this notion; it was exhaustion that had stolen our morning wood, he said, and at some point, it would return with a vengeance. When that happened, he had some very specific suggestions on what actions we should take, the gist of which was, "Don't save that s**t up, men! You will explode!"

Apparently, the Bioroids were dying from blue balls. I try not to imagine how the longevity treatments were carried out.

You know, I actually was hoping to keep things on a higher intellectual plane than this. Silly me.

BTW, apropos of nothing, I used the phrase "chock-full of" something today, which made me wonder, where does that come from anyway? Chocks are things you put under wheels to keep them from rolling. What does that have to do with being full?

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Trial Run

Thought I would give this a try. I love reading some other folks' blogs, and I could use the daily discipline of writing. Nothing very witty today, because I'm just test-driving, kind of like those old programming tutorials where you print something like "This is my first program" to the screen or something. For some reason, I never really had the knack of seeing the possibilities in the tutorial and pushing beyond the boundaries of what they showed me (or else I tried to push so far beyond the boundaries that I quickly got lost and gave up). I've often been told that I'm a creative guy, but there are certain kinds of creativity that have always escaped me. Those guys who come up with crazy tricks on skateboards and bikes? Might as well be aliens as far as I'm concerned. I'll never understand where they're coming from.

Speaking of aliens, have you seen the teaser for Spielberg's "War of the Worlds"? Looks like it could be good, but it stars Tom Cruise, and star power has a tendency to warp projects in directions they're not always meant to go. We'll see....