Friday, December 30, 2011

Oh Heck, I'm Going To Be Political Again

I don't do this very much.

No, seriously, I don't. Look back at my archives. I mean, there was this one about voting...but before that? Not a lot. And for good reason: I don't want this to be a political blog, because I am lazy intellectually. I don't want to have to think hard about politics. It's too much effort.

But tonight--

The topic du jour is the New York Times' questions to Republican candidates about their views on the limits of presidential power. I think this is a great idea: it forces the candidates to publicly define their conception of the limits of the office they aspire to hold.

My uninformed opinion of the candidates responses are below. Keep in mind that this is MY opinion, and that it's my OPINION. I'm not trying to make absolute statements about the candidates. If you, adoring masses, disagree with me, that's fine. Comment and let me know your thoughts.

  • Newt Gingrich speaks in sound bites. Does he think in sound bites? Or is the brevity of his answers calculated, to pander to the short attention spans of readers?
  • Jon Huntsman loves to talk precedent.
  • Mitt Romney repeatedly references the past.
  • Rick Perry does the cookie-cutter thing: he used the following sentence to begin his answers almost 50% of the time. "The Constitution clearly vests in the President full executive authority, and an absolute duty, to protect the nation when vital American security interests are at stake. "
  • Ron Paul continues to cement his legacy as one of the most consistent presidential candidates in a long while.
  • Paul's answer to the "Interrogation and Surveillance" question cracks me up.
I still don't know which of these candidates will receive my vote--if any of them do. Paul's answers are perhaps the most reassuring, however: he seems to have a firm conception of the boundaries of the office of President.


Long live impulse!

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Out of the Canyon: An Essay

The following is an essay I wrote in the fall of 2010. I recently unearthed it, and it expresses so fully some of what's been on my mind recently regarding the West and creativity and all that--I just decided to post it. It's a bit of a long read, but I'd appreciate feedback.

Out of the Canyon
Black Canyon of the Gunnison, July 8, 2010

The Coleman lantern perches on the the bench of the picnic table beside me. The mantles, tiny suns the size of quarters, fling their incendiary glare into the darkest corners of the primitive mountain campsite in which I sit. I hold my book angled to catch the pale yellow rays. On an adjacent mountainpeak, a coyote sings the blues. I lift my head at the hollow howl, then return to my book.

--my book! It is a deep ocean of narrative. Currents of plot seize me, overpower me, enthrall me. Characters surface, as mysterious and foreign as the shark from Jaws, grip me, carry me away with them. And booming like the bass song of the surf, attacking then receding, are the waves of what I call the Glory. The Glory--everything in a book that touches me. Perhaps they are splashes of theme, or swirls of literary device. Symbolism. Parallelism. Point of view. Every stylistic brushstroke, every intoxicating emotion, all the elements that catch hold of my heart and will not let go. I have been dragged far, far below the surface of my novel. Not even the contemplative passage of a raccoon through the campsite can bring me to the surface. The raccoon continues on its amiable way towards the dumpsters, and I swim deeper into the ocean that is The Big Sleep.

The blunted roar of flammable gas from the Coleman--it catches, hesitates, and then resumes. Then it falters again, and apologetically expires. The not-darkness of a full-moon night dissolves onto me. I pull myself, dripping, out of the murky depths. I shake my mind's fist at Raymond Chandler, Creator of those depths, author of their intoxicating allure. I stretch, I yawn, I look around me.

and then


I feel the open-handed slap of that otherworldly something I cannot even begin to describe. Sometimes I feel the slap when I see the snow skirling into its drifts down by Lake Michigan. Sometimes I feel the slap when I sit in class and watch the world lurch on its axis--out of sheer boredom. Sometimes I feel the slap when I stand at the top of one of the dozens of old fire towers that dot Wisconsin's natural forests, and I see Autumn's chuckling match set to the green summery leaves, and they ignite.

When I feel the slap--when I see the world lurch and rearrange itself subtly--something happens to me. Perhaps I make a resolution to change my ways and be a better man. Perhaps I write a poem which I will never revise. Perhaps I only plan to write a poem...or a short story...or a novel...or a cycle of novels...

If I plan, though, and I do not do--if I only plan, I never do.

I feel that slap now, on the mountaintop in Colorado. I pull my cell phone from my pocket, grimace at the cracked screen, and peer at the display. No signal. It's shortly after midnight. I am here alone. The Big Sleep bends forgotten on my chair. I look out over the short scrub around the campsite, and suddenly I see my America, stretched out beneath me. The country, the whole country, in four dimensions, its history as real as its height, its width, its depth.

Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled detective (and why do we call Philip Marlowe hard-boiled? is he an egg? No, he is a piece of jerky, lean and tough and salty and unprepossessing and somehow very endearing) is my brother. He drives through torrential rains outside Los Angeles to right wrongs, a fedoraed white knight riding a mechanical steed. And I sit in the back seat of his car, 71 years later, breathless as his dramatic life continues to unfold so unassumingly and honestly.

Was Philip Marlowe a real man? Well, technically speaking, no. But speaking technically is speaking unimaginatively--and speaking emotionlessly. "So did Philip Marlowe exist?" I ask my conscience. And my conscience grudgingly admits, "Yes. For the last two hours he existed. For the last two hours you looked over his very real shoulder as he found the tacks in the road, uncovered psychosis and perversion, crossed and double-crossed and triple-crossed. You saw him win--you saw him lose. You shared his secret thoughts. You know him. You are his brother."

As I lean back, still stretching, and stare at the Jackson Pollock sky, I realize what the slap is telling me. The universe that Philip Marlowe inhabits: it is mine as well. I have partaken of his story, just for this evening, and we now share this plane of existence. The cast of characters in my universe grows with every book I read: Samwise Gamgee, Holden Caulfield, Ishmael and Queequeg, Sherlock Holmes, Anne Shirley, Randall Flagg, Jack Reacher, Laura Ingalls Wilder, David Webb (but everyone knows him as Jason Bourne), Sam Spade, Nicholas Nickleby, Jack Ryan, Hercule Poirot, Lady Macbeth, Lennie Small, Lord Peter Wimsey, the poor hapless Baudelaires: all of them wander somewhere in my universe.

I am what I read.

--and, like a puff of wind, my muse flees.

The sage palisading the campsite smells like untamed lavender.

That's it. What did you think?

Long live dredging!

Monday, December 26, 2011

The Slack-Jawed "WHAT?"

I have friends, believe it or not, friends who are In Touch with popular culture (or, as I believe the kids are calling it these days, "popped culture", though I might be wrong about that). I myself am not particularly culture-savvy. I mean, I know that the Spiderman movies are the hot new superhero thing, what with Tobias Macguire (son of Mark Macguire, famous football player). And I hear that Mr. Marshall Mathers has been releasing several new songs to the public, some of his rappings. But I'm not...In Touch with popular culture the way a lot of people are.

In all seriousness, I'm rather interested by the bug-eyed, slack-jawed "WHAT!?!?!!!" reaction I get when I:

a) announce that I'm unfamiliar with some apparently pivotal part of American popular culture.

HER: Just like in Jaws!
ME: I never actually saw Jaws.
HER: WHAT!?!?!?!!!
b) announce that I don't appreciate an apparently pivotal part of American popular culture.

HIM: Listen, it's a Michael Jackson song!
ME: Yech, I really don't like Michael Jackson.
HIM: WHAT!?!?!?!!!
I have actually begun to predict when the WHAT!?!?!?!!! will happen. Some things are WHAT-worthy (I never saw The Big Lebowski. WHAT!?!?!?!!!), and some things are not (I don't really like the little-known John Carpenter-penned sci-fi film The Philadelphia Experiment. *crickets*).

The WHAT!?!?!?!!! is beginning to get to me. It's a knee-jerk reaction, of course, but the underlying mentality is rather disturbing. It betrays this conception that there is a certain pool of experience from which everyone usually drinks, and if you don't drink from it, you're...weird. While I accept the existence of the pool, I don't appreciate the judgement.

I try to follow my own tastes. It doesn't always work, of course: I am more likely to see a film if it receives approbation from critical observers. But I'm trying to develop my own critical palate. It's depressing, every time I hear a WHAT!?!?!?!!!, to remember that the majority of consumers in America (and possibly worldwide, but I'll only stretch my uninformed opinion so far) willingly drink from the popular pool of experience, and don't think about what they're drinking.

Long live semi-independent thought!

UNSPOOLING: Yellowstone Kelly

I'm nothing if not opportunistic, some of the time. (Perhaps that means that the rest of the time, I am nothing, but that's a monologue for another day.) I was cruising the darkest reaches of Netflix last night, searching for something new to watch, and I found a '50s western called Yellowstone Kelly that was only available for streaming until January 1. Naturally, I watched it.

Boy, am I glad I did.

I'm not sure if I love the Western genre or if I despise it. There's plenty of room for creativity: with the colorful, varied history and the variety of scenery the American West provides, there's no excuse for formulaism. Regrettably, too many studios churned out cookie-cutter lawman flicks in the '30s, '40s, and '50s, with the result that the market became oversaturated. Today, many consider the Western a dying genre.

Either way, Yellowstone Kelly was not cookie-cutter. It was unique. It was different. It used some traditional cliches, especially narratively. Its characters were fairly well-drawn. The cinematography was excellent.

A few positive points stood out to me, in particular. First, the fistfights: any Western worth its salt will have at least one fistfight. Audiences expect it, and it's a good way to build tension between characters without seriously injuring or killing any of them. My problem with most fistfights, especially in the heyday of the Western, is that they're more like boxing matches: the fighters seem to think that leg strikes and other grappling techniques are forbidden. And honestly? Nobody boxes in real life. If it's a fight, you're mad, and you'll do whatever you can to hurt the other guy. You're not going to just punch him.

Thankfully, Yellowstone Kelly broke the mold. I noted with approval that the titular character used elbows, knees, kicks, and even a clothesline to take down his opponents. It was fresh, it was new, and it was appreciated.

There was also a nice bit of parallelism, parallelism for which I saw the potential fairly early on, but didn't expect to be fleshed out. I won't give it away, but it revolves around two similar relationships focused on a single MacGuffin. I was very pleasantly surprised by the literate nature of the parallelism.

Perhaps I enjoyed Yellowstone Kelly more because it's set in my favorite part of America, the Northern West (Montana, Wyoming, Idaho). That fact, coupled with the glorious cinematography, may have biased me to enjoy the film more than I would have otherwise. Full disclosure here, people.

I give Yellowstone Kelly 4 Reels on Ian's Totally Subjective Film Rating System.

Long live gems!

Saturday, December 24, 2011

The Quick 'Un

Hello, friends!

Want to be smooth and suave and awesome?

Google the following text.

sqrt(cos(x))*cos(200x) +sqrt(abs(x))-0.7)*(4-x*x)^0.01, sqrt(9-x^2) from -4.5 to 4.5

My jaw dropped. Did yours?

Long live innovation!

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Delete Friend?

I promise, this isn't going to be a Ludite rant.

So I use the Facebook, and I tweet the Twitter (by the way, can we please agree that snarkily adding definite articles before popular social-media websites is just the worst?). I am Involved on Facebook and Twitter. Sometimes, "friends" annoy me, usually by being idiots or consistently spelling "consistently" wrong.

So I block them.

And then I feel like this:

Great success.

Let's put aside the question "is it right to feel this way toward your fellow man?" We're putting it aside because we already know the answer: "No, most certainly not." The question I'm interested in is "why do I feel so happy when I block idiots?"

Some answers:

  • I don't have to look at their misspellings any more.

  • It gives me a feeling of power--I can dictate who's in my life and who isn't.

  • There's a remote chance that they totally idolized me and now they'll see that I'm gone from their lives and that'll force them to change their ways and before ya know it, they'll be back on the straight and narrow, and I just set some kind of record for Most Contractions Used In A Sentence.

  • Wait, what? Look back at the second answer I gave.

I can dictate who's a part of my life and who isn't.

Facebook, and to a lesser extent Twitter, provides me with the power to kind-of-absolutely-control my existence. I can even delete people from my life if I want, if "life" here is equated to "profile" or "brand" or "online presence" or whatever it is to be called. The point is that I can erase people from my universe.

That's not a form of--of murder, is it?

If in real life I find someone annoying, there are a few ways I can remove that annoyance from my life. I can physically remove myself from their vicinity (analogous to deactivating an account). But that's a retreat. That's an admission that the annoyance has defeated me.

I can seek to avoid them, ignore them, analogous to "un-friending". But they're still out there, and they tend to turn up like bad pennies when I least want to see them or hear from them.

So what remains?

I dunno. Now I feel guilty about blocking people.

Great success, conscience!

Long live maundering...

Sunday, December 18, 2011


What the HECK did I just watch?

The simple answer is "Pontypool, a 2009 Canadian horror-thriller".

But things aren't that simple.

Is it a sermon preaching the gospel of postmodernism?

Is it the most innovative zombie movie of the last decade?

Is it a triumph of low-budget filmmaking?

Is it a story that absolutely defies definitive interpretation?

Is it a masterpiece of experiential fiction?

It's all of those things, and it's none of them.

This one will take a while for me to fully unpack. It's not a movie everyone will enjoy. It has quite a bit of language and some fairly gory gore. It's a movie for discerning viewers.

There are too many thoughts whirling through my head right now, too many to comprehend, too many to enunciate. Pontypool is one of the best films I've seen in a long time. And for that, it gets 5 Reels in Ian's Totally Subjective Film Rating System. See this movie! You won't regret it.

Long live slack-jawedness!

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Unforgivable Arrogance

I read Agatha Christie from time to time. Yesterday was one of those times: Death on the Nile. I began reading it, and as soon as I realized that it is a Poirot novel I experienced a peculiar sinking feeling, an interesting decline in my interest in the book.

Not that I won't finish it--oh, no. But I sighed, inwardly, and said to myself somewhat regretfully, "Alack. Another Poirot."

I think the reason I don't like Hercule Poirot as a detective begins with his method. Poirot is the ultimate psychological detective; he solves cases by understanding personality, behavior, etc. He is no Holmesian examiner of cigar ash.

I can accept the concept of psychological detection. One of my favorite detectives is Father Brown, who says that the way he solves crimes is by "becoming" the criminal. Why, then, my distaste for Hercule Poirot?

It's the arrogance. It's an element of his character, of course; and bravo to Christie for humanizing her lead in such a potentially crippling fashion. In my uninformed opinion, though, the way Poirot solves crimes is sloppy. He consistently employs fallacies of sweeping generalization. And he doesn't care, because he succeeds.

I've long been a proponent of allowing recurring detectives to fail. Sherlock Holmes, perhaps the most recurring of all recurring detectives, failed on more than one occasion. And that made him a richer, fuller character.

Poirot's arrogance, his blind belief in his own ability, annoys me. And that's why I'll look at Death on the Nile with a touch of resignation blended with my enjoyment.

Long live personal taste!

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

There Is No Lesser _______

I'm excused this one, right? I mean, I'm not usually political all up in here. This blog tends more to the philosophical, the artistic, the sophisticated, right?

(N.B. by "philosophical/artistic/sophisticated" I mean "lazily posting links to songs I happen to enjoy".)

A friend of mine recently announced his decision to support Mitt Romney in the 2012 Republican primaries. And he phrased his decision thus: "Reluctantly, Romney 2012."


Since when do we have to be reluctant about our vote? 

I don't like this idea that I have two options. I don't like thinking that I have to choose between (gulp) two evils. Why not? Because when I vote for the lesser of two evils, in essence I'm not casting a vote for anyone. I'm casting a vote against someone. I'm saying "Okay, Candidate1 is bad, but Candidate 2 is worse. I don't want worse, I want just regular bad." The choice is not motivated by appreciation for the ostensible principles of Candidate 1. It's motivated by disapproval for Candidate 2.

And I don't think that's quite how things should work.

My reluctantly-Romney-supporting friend seems more enthusiastic about removing Mr. Obama from the White House than putting Mr. Romney in it. This is a problem, in my uninformed opinion. It's a problem philosophically, and it's a problem practically.

The philosophical problem is simple. If candidates devolve into a contest of "At least I'm not that guy", then the likelihood of actual intellectual and principial honesty decreases drastically. If voters only want reassurance that "I'm not that guy", politicians everywhere are let off the hook. They no longer have to be consistent (or have the appearance of consistency). They no longer have to be principled (or have the appearance of principle).

As for the practical problem, well, start by reading what Dave Begel has to say. Personally, I try to avoid bringing up problems unless I have a possible solution in mind. Because a problem without a solution only fosters discontent. 

If my friend's intent is to cast a vote against Mr. Obama, he's trying to solve a problem when there isn't a real solution available, in his opinion.

Don't cast a negative vote, this upcoming year. Cast a positive vote, one you can get behind. Or don't vote at all.

Long live Variety.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

UNSPOOLING: Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Sometimes when I watch movies I have thoughts about them. Weird, right? I'm probably the only person that ever happens to. Ever.

(The above is sarcasm, Bueller and adoring fans.)

I watched Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time tonight because I was in the mood for something corny and popcorny and fast-moving and not too hard to grasp. Also because I have a level three man-crush on Sir Ben Kingsley. (I'll have to create a post someday about my levels of man-crush. It's an interesting topic.) And while the film met those expectations, it exceeded my expectations in other respects.

One positive I specifically noticed was the introduction of some fairly weighty thematic elements. While fate/destiny, family, and following the heart are all well-worn Hollywood tropes, PoP's use of these classic (read: often overused) themes is subtly unique. Family, for instance, is central thematically to the film. The lesson "Family is important" is hardly new; but the way that lesson is communicated in Prince of Persia is unique.

Of course there is a Heroic Moment Of Family where formerly squabbling family members cooperate to achieve something Heroic. In contrast to that, however, PoP sets a broken family relationship, an example of what happens if Heroic Moments of Family don't happen. The implication is not merely "cooperate or good things won't happen", the implication is "cooperate or bad things will happen".

These concepts were not treated in great detail. They merely functioned to serve the film, to deepen it and give it a dimension I frankly did not expect.

I thought I was watching a movie for fun. But Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time actually made me think. And for that, it gets 4 Reels in Ian's Totally Subjective Film Rating System.

Long live practicality!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Incarnation By Any Other Name

Keep "Christ" in Christmas.

Or not. It doesn't really matter.

Every year, the campaign: the bumper stickers, the yard signs, the angry blog posts, the "OMG REPOST THIS OR YOU ARE EVIL" Facebook status updates. It has come to annoy me.

Keep "Christ" in Christmas.

Does it matter?

At bottom, this is an issue of semantics. Does anyone really believe that continuing to call Christmas "Christmas" and not "Xmas" or "Santamas" or "Buymas" will change anything?

I understand, some celebrate the holiday as a remembrance of Christ's incarnation. And bully for them. It was a n amazing event that deserves remembrance. More frequent remembrance, actually.

For others, the focus of Christmas is family. It's a time when squabbles are (superficially, at least) set aside, large gatherings are planned, and a big ol' fashioned fam'ly dinner is eaten.

A vocal minority of the incarnation-rememberers wish that everyone would stop talking about Santa and buying stuff and remember "the reason for the season". So they come up with a perfectly-tailored controversy to fit their agenda.

Keep "Christ" in Christmas.

But honestly, what will that do? Will a secular family start hanging stockings and suddenly say, "Oh hai, to heck with commercialism, let's celebrate Jesus' birth!"? If "Xmas" replaces "Christmas", will those incarnation-rememberers look around in confusion asking "What is this all about anyway?"

The answer is No. The Keep "Christ" in Christmas push is a sop. It's an opportunity for conservatives to win at something, to take the moral high ground and use it to their advantage. It's easy to get behind. It's uncomplicated. It's not an intellectual challenge.

What the holiday is called changes nothing about it. Some will remember Christ on December 25th. Others will enjoy family. A good many will obsess about how they'll pay for all these presents. No matter what it's called, those things will still happen. Squabbling over a name is a shameful waste of energy.

That's all.

Long live Fruitless Expenditures of Intellectual Energy.

Soldiering On

I have been away recently, adoring masses.

But now I return, and there just so happens to be triumphant sunlight shining around me as I ride down an impossibly steep slope on my conveniently white horse at the head of a whole eored of warriors.

(Lord of the Rings reference? Anyone? Bueller? Guess I have to spell this one out with a picture.)

I'm somewhere in the middle. On a conveniently white horse.

I have written the first draft of the next Great American Novel, so that's where my ostensibly boundless but actually all-too-humanly bounded creative energy has been directed. If you made it through that last sentence with your patience intact, go ahead and get yourself a congratulatory enchilada from the enchilada dispenser. I'll wait here.

I participated in NaNoWriMo this year. For you unwashed who are not privy to the secrets (and by "secrets" I mean "things which actually aren't secret at all"), NaNoWriMo is the cool people's in-slang for National Novel Writing Month. I could explain all about it, but linking to the description is much easier.

Ignore the part where it keeps harping on how terrible the finished product is. Mine isn't terrible. It has actually been called "the next Great American Novel" (DeJong, 2 Paragraphs Ago). Critics would be calling it "mindblowing" and "splendid" and "rad" and "bully" and "tearjerking" and "the potato pancake to my lobster souffle" except I haven't let them read it yet. I have to tone down the awesomeness before I let anyone read it. Also, there might be a character whose name changes a couple of times.

Anyway, that's where I've been. In all seriously, it was a great experience. My finished product is actually nowhere near "finished", but I've already started looking at it again. I have a list of immediate fixes that I need to effect, and then I'm putting it away for a month. Not going to talk about it, not going to think about it, not going to work on it. I'm going to pretend as if it never happened.

Oh, and grad school apps are in. Here's hoping someone makes a mistake and accepts me this year.

Long live the Triumphant Slope!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Home Is Where My Clothes Are

My apartment has been, is now, and most likely will be for the rest of its brief life, a crash pad.

(If my landlord reads this: I am not planning to arsonize my apartment. Or blow it up, or destroy it in any way. Remember that part where I said "for the rest of its brief life"? That was neither a threat, a promise, nor a warning. It was just my way of saying "I won't be living here for the rest of my life. I probably won't be living here a year from now, actually."

This addendum is now 4x as long as the body of this post, and we are desperately off-topic. In sum, landlord, we cool.)

My apartment is a crash pad. I don't live here, really. I don't make memories here. I don't even make food here usually. Not what most people mean when they talk about food.

I stop in occasionally, is kind of what I'm trying to say.

(Oh, and I get millions of pageviews every hour. So stop laughing at the possibility that my landlord might read this post. In terms of Adoring Fans, I am the king.)

So tonight I came back home--

There. I did it.

Before tonight, I never once thought of my apartment as "home". Not like I was uncomfortable here. Not like I had some other place that was "home". I never referred to this place as "home" in my mind, is all.

Until tonight. 

It was unique. I haven't really felt "at home" somewhere since the summer of 2009.

I like that feeling.

Too bad the lease is up in about six months.

Long live the Stream.

Friday, September 23, 2011

There's No Accounting For Taste

I...guess I have some explaining to do.

I recently picked up Louis Leterrier's remake of the 1981 Harryhausen creature-feature Clash Of The Titans. The remake intrigued me when it came out; I didn't see it in theatres, though I wish now that I had. I actually blogged about it, it interested me so much.

So I got the movie for a song, and I watched it. And I enjoyed it.

And then I made the mistake of telling some people that I liked it.

Yeah, "oops" is right.

I can't say why I liked it. Some movies I enjoy more than others. I watched The Informant! the other day. Critics liked it, I didn't. It was supposed to be a comedy (I knew that because the music was upbeat and spunky) but I only laughed a few times. It was a sobering movie, in my opinion. Critical success, undoubtedly well-made, but I just didn't enjoy it.

Clash of the Titans doesn't have a great story. It has some pretty good actors in it, actors I always love seeing, like Liam Neeson and Ralph Fiennes. I thought the visuals were pretty cool, too. But honestly? I don't really know why I enjoyed it. I did, though, and I'll probably watch it again sometime.

I guess it just comes down to something I'm always preaching: individuality of mind. I encourage people to make their own decisions, not to be shackled to the drifting raft of public opinion. "Make your own mind up!" I rail. "Don't let everyone else make it up for you!"

Sometimes I doubt my own ability to adhere to this credo. But then stuff like this happens, and my faith is restored.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that owning your own mind is wise. Because then you can do "stupid" stuff like enjoying Clash of the Titans.

Long live cop-outs!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

+35 Tome of Corruption

...and with that appropriately nerdy (and mostly unrelated to my topic) title, we have nowhere to go but up, quality-wise.

I recently finished A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess. It has 21 chapters. Apparently the 21st chapter wasn't really ever published in America, because the American publisher didn't like the last chapter. Then the movie came out, and it omitted the positive ending as well. So for, like, forty years, The American Consumer labored under the illusion that A Clockwork Orange has 20 chapters.

Big whoop, right? Actually, yes. Because if the book ends with Chapter 20, it's a pretty depressing statement on human depravity. SPOILER (highlight): Chapter 20 ends with the "reformed" criminal returning to his crime-filled ways.

If it ends with Chapter 21, it becomes a hopeful "boys-will-be-boys" sermon about the fundamental good in humankind. SPOILER (highlight): Chapter 21 ends with the criminal, now a few years older, realizing that crime is boring and he'd rather have a son.

We all know that ART! is dark and dreary and anti-everything. So when a writer in the sixties produces a book about how horrible people really are, it's ART!

But if that writer had produced a book about how people are really good, and you just have to give them time to sort out their psychological disorder, would it have been viewed as ART!?

Perhaps not.

A Clockwork Orange is considered a dystopian classic. Would it have gained the following it now enjoys were the final chapter more accessible?

Or, to put my question in more empirical terms, is ART! arbitrarily constructed to feed the rebellious tendency in the human heart?

Long live cliffhangers...!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Shadows of Friends Past

Tonight I stop in the auditorium to watch part of a dance rehearsal for a musical. On-stage, friends and strangers gyrate inconsistently. Director and assistant director gaze up at the controlled chaos, their faces non-judgmental, all-seeing masks. Accompanist, patient but ready to spring in at a moment's notice with the required chord, watches steadily, her gaze never leaving the spring-loaded body of the choreographer.

And what a marionette he is! He is machine-making-art, powered by inexhaustible funds of creativity and joy and passion. He creates story with body and character with movement. To young actors, he is accessible. To experienced actors, he throws down a gauntlet: Can You Do This?

In counterpoint to his irrepressible energy looms the silent stateliness of the performance space. How many stories these walls tell me: of high drama performed and petty drama exacerbated--of unintentional comedy that sparkles and shimmers and tickles, and of unfunny jokes forced down the unwilling throats of the audience. Here is a student performance of Romeo and Juliet; here is Cinderella come to life as student proposes to student, mid-rehearsal. Here is anger and faked catastrophe, and real catastrophe barely-averted. Vases and ropin' fools and little women and tax-evading grandfathers...these curtains tell all.

To me. They tell these stories to me, because I am gone. I am no longer a part. I am an outsider, looking in, and my memories merge with the memories of these walls, and I am mysteriously a part of history.

Long live flights of fancy!

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Odds and Ends

Has anyone seen the trailer for David Fincher's "The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo"? If you haven't, here it is.

Stieg Larsson's Millenium Trilogy is quite the success story. Documented elsewhere, so I won't go into it here, but pretty amazing when you think about it. They were adapted for film in Sweden, and then, because there was more money to be made, American movies were planned.

So that trailer up there is for the American version. Just to be clear.

I intended this post to be about how some trailers are pretty cool by themselves, but then their music just exponentially increases their level of win. Then I discovered that did this article already. So go ahead and just read that. I was going to mention Watchmen and 9, but they also pick up on Pineapple Express, for which I never really saw a trailer. Hurray for

Went to see Contagion on Friday. I guess it's supposed to be an Oscar contender. Maybe it'll challenge for Best Director, and I suppose it could be one of the "five to ten" to get enough number one votes to put it into Best Picture. It's an awards-hungry film. You can just tell.

I didn't hate it. It all just seemed so retreaded to me. Maybe I've been spoiled by fantasy-epidemics like that in 28 Days Later. Maybe I have low, consumerist tastes. But I felt like there were too many threads in the movie--too many elements trying to teach us too many lessons--too many characters trying to elicit too many emotions--too many plot elements jostling for first place, with the effect that the plot just didn't seemed to matter.

And that last was one of the most surprising to me. In a film about a worldwide epidemic, plotting seems simple. But the characterization was so lacking that when a major character succumbed to the virus, I felt no deep pang of sorrow. I felt nothing more than a whiff of passing regret. "Well that's too bad."

So the characters didn't make me care about the plot. But by itself the narrative was insignificant. I didn't want the epidemic to ravage the country, to the extent that the film became a prequel to Zombieland. But I wasn't quite prepared for how everything and everyone seemed back to normal. The events of the film didn't seem to change anything. The characters were superficially affected (dead, bereaved, or that dread cliche Drawn Closer To Loved Ones), but not actually affected. So I was left asking, "Why should I care?"

Sure, technology conquers. Sure, humanity adapts to survive. Sure, there will always be profiteers piggybacking on disaster (whether they be renegade bloggers or pharmaceutical companies). Does catastrophe change us?

Or is history truly cyclical? Are humans innately unable to learn from their mistakes, doomed to repeat them for eternity? According to Contagion, the answer is yes.

This, then, is Contagion's chilling message. Not "Wash your hands or you might start an epidemic" or "Love the people you have before you lose them". No, Contagion shows us people who are fundamentally unaffected by catastrophe.

I don't want to be one of those.

Long live accidents.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Chronic Optimism

There are few things I have experienced in my 21 years on this terrestrial ball as optimistic as the beginning of a new year of undergraduate study.

As I watch school start for my friends and acquaintances--as I watch from the outside--I'm impressed with the unbridled positive spirit which lives and breathes on campus. Impressed, and a little amused.

Lest the following post sound like sour grapes from a recent post-grad, let me remind my constant readers that I experienced the illogicality of Fall Optimism, and I drank it to its dregs. More than most, perhaps.

First, there's the issue of Coping With The Loss Of Summer: inevitably, the complaint is that summer was too short. But since Wisconsin draws out its summers into mid-September (often later), the weather will not have changed yet. In fact, many moving-in students probably wish for a cooler wind to whisk through the futon- and TV-clogged hallways. And the first week, we reassure ourselves, the first week of classes is always easy.

Which brings us to the second hurdle to be overcome by Fall Optimism: the discipline of school after a summer of...something else. Some were able to relax and take their ease; for them the hurdle is higher. Those who worked hard all summer to make spending money for the fall? Well, they're already in a disciplined mindset--but even so, academic discipline is different from working-world discipline.

So how is this hurdle overcome? By forgetfulness. We don't remember just how draining a 15-page paper on the minor differences between John Locke's and Jean-Jacques Rousseau's vision of mankind can be. We forget the sick feeling that comes with looking at the syllabus and realizing that no, that test isn't next week, it's tomorrow, and did I study for it? Is the Pope Presbyterian?

Instead of those things, we remember the day that our one prof jumped up and down when he was talking about Portia in The Merchant of Venice, or we remember how the other prof is a department head so he cancels class fairly often, or we remember the time we listened to Bob Dylan songs the whole class period.

We remember the positive.

The same goes for on-campus activities that we participate in. We don't remember the blinding, sickening drag of getting up coffeeless on a Saturday morning to help with set build for the fall musical. We don't remember the frantic scheduling, the wheeling and dealing necessary to make sure that neither one of our on-campus jobs needs us for Tuesday night, because that's when the writing workshop is--oh wait, I was supposed to take my buddy shopping. Gotta text him quick...

Instead, we remember the glow of satisfaction as we take our bows at curtain call.

And we forget the intricate webs of relationship that we entangle ourselves in while we're at school. In our delight to see everyone once again, we forget that one's emotional instability, this one's immaturity, that one's inability to take a hint and LEAVE, for Pete's sake, because SOME OF US have to be up at 8am tomorrow for a meeting. We don't see the potential for new pains, new struggles, and new sorrows. We look at our friends, associates, acquaintances, with rose-colored glasses.

This post seems to be shaping into a condemnation of the idiots returning to school, how they can't live in the real world, how they must practice self-deception to survive the harsh realities of college. But fear not, gentle reader: for now comes the Shyamalanian twist.

I applaud the Fall Optimism of whose waters so many returning (and new) students drink deeply. And I applaud the students who are mature enough to drink of those waters.

When confronted with something massive and fanged, one may run and hide, or despair, or gird one's loins up with confidence and self-respect. Those who run forsake the potential glory of defeating the monster. Those who despair are often consumed by the monster. But those who stand tall in their own two shoes, screw their courage to the sticking-point, and face the monster head-on have the greatest chance of victory.

I have seen people leave school because those papers or those tests or those presentations were too much. I have seen people become cynical, hate-filled shells of themselves, all their energy wasted on hating their alma mater. And I have seen people emerge triumphant, because they could cope. They drank from the well of Fall Optimism; they found a way to cope with the depressing aspects of college; and then they raised their shields and dashed headlong into the maw of Semester I.

Hail, students. We who know your toil salute you.

Long live hope.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


It seems one of the things I want the most is to be indispensable.

I think it's a boost to my pride--I know it's a boost to my pride--to be told, "Ian, we couldnta done this without you." It doesn't even always need to be said. Sometimes I can tell I'm needed.

It's part of the reason I have difficulty saying "no." If someone's asking me or inviting me, they're needing me. I don't want to turn down a chance at an ego-boost. It's happened that I've had no interest whatsoever in doing the thing in question, but I do it anyway. Because I want to feel needed.

That's why I began doing theatre. I didn't enjoy theatre itself, at first. It was a big step outside my comfort zone. As time went by, I actually began to enjoy it more. So thank God for that, at least.

I used to think that this was a good thing. That my need to be needed evinced a servant's heart. The problem is--it doesn't. Because of the ego-boost thing mentioned earlier.

Now, out of school (where my opinions were tolerated and my input was sometimes welcomed) and into the "real world," I am discovering that I am not so indispensable. I'm still in training for one of my jobs. If I weren't there, they would continue on just fine. My other job, one I've had for four years, will be dispensing of my services come August.

To this, I think, this blog post has been leading: I have a few options now.
  • I could wallow in despair at my dispensability.
  • I could actively seek methods to make myself indispensable again.
  • I could realize the futility of a lifelong quest for indispensability.
Of those options, the first two involve no change in me. That's a positive, because I'm lazy as sin and I don't like the idea of changing. A lot of work and a lot of trouble, and I don't make any money thereby.
    The third option is...well, I think it's too late. By writing this post I've chosen the third option. I have to serve now. I have to realize that I won't be indispensable to anyone for a good long while--and that indispensability is a rotten goal to shoot for.

    So how about a different goal? I am an Image-bearer. How about I try to live up to that Image?

    Long live forks.

    Sunday, May 22, 2011

    I Walked Today Cedarburg. It's where I live now. I enjoyed it.

    The most noteworthy element of my walk was what can only be described as a hippie store. The place to go if one were interested in becoming a hippie, and one didn't have all the hippie gear. One of the prominent elements of the hippie store's window display was a closely-typed screed about the importance of buying organic stuff.

    I probably would agree with the majority of what it said. But I didn't read it. Why not? I had all the time in the world. It was readily available to me...

    Maybe I was turned off by its connotations.

    Human perception of communication is influenced by perception of communicator. I saw that the screed was in a hippie store. I dislike hippies. So the message in the hippie store had negative associations for me, so I didn't read it.


    The squeaky wheel gets the grease. The minority is often more vocal than the majority, and the minority gives the majority a bad name. Why does America have a negative reputation with other countries? Because we all fit the uglyfatrudeAmerican stereotype? No. Because the noticeable elements get noticed.

    I'm pro-life. Saying that gets me negatively branded as [intolerant.woman-hating.wack-job.angry.religion-imposing.chauvinist.right-wing.illogical.anti-intellectualETC!].

    I don't think I am those things. Furthermore, I don't think that believing that life begins at conception means I am automatically intolerant, woman-hating, or any of the rest.

    The reason that "pro-life" equals "redneck" in the minds of so many is that the extreme fringes of the pro-life movement furnish and illustrate that stereotype. The most noticeable elements, the ones wanting to kill doctors and bomb clinics, get noticed.

    Then the human penchant for laziness steps in and assumes that if 1% of the pro-life movement acts and believes a certain way, the other 99% does too. Or maybe it's 10/90. Or even 40/60. I don't believe that last is true, though.

    Disagree with me if you will--but don't tar me with the same brush as Westboro Baptist Church members.

    And maybe I'll give the hippie store a second chance. Head back the screed about being organic...maybe even be convinced, or agree with the majority of it.

    Long live lugubrity!

    Thursday, May 19, 2011

    The Facebook Conspiracy

    We all know that certain websites track web activity.

    That's a pretty broad statement. It's also a pretty unsupported statement.

    OR IS IT?

    This link is actual legit truthful words about widgets and things.

    Now that you've read it, raise your hand if you're scared about a Web conspiracy. (To clarify, the descriptions of most Web conspiracies involve the words "harvesting data," "tracking use," "widgets," "massive databases," "evil empire," and "Arnold Schwarzenegger.")

    The plain truth is that Google is not going to try to take over the world. Neither is Facebook training armies in Malaysia. Neither is Twitter busy killing space-puppies on Mars.

    Why do they harvest info? It's this thing called market research. It's the attempt by companies to understand what their users use, and why those users use what they use. It's not a conspiracy; it's capitalism.

    So maybe Twitter will sell your surfing history to They're not trying to achieve world domination. They're just trying to turn a buck.

    Long live impatience!

    Monday, May 16, 2011

    Prospectus for the Remodeled Chewing Gum Corporation

    So I found this essay by Will Rogers. It kind of reminded me of Jonathan Swift's Modest Proposal. Will Rogers was a really funny fellow.

    Last week I made, on account of my Movie work, a trip to Catalina Island and along with the Glass bottom Boat I had pointed out to me the home of Mr. William Wrigley on the top of the highest mountain. He also owns the Island. We were not allowed to go nearer than the gate as the Guide said some other Tourist had carried away a Grand Piano, and he had gotten discouraged at having them around. Another tourist was caught right on the Lawn Chewing an opposition brand of Gum. That is really the thing that gummed up the Tourist Parade.

    Then I remembered having seen his wonderful building in Chicago, all, mind you, accumulated on Chewing Gum at a Cent a Chew. Now I felt rather hurt at not being allowed to walk through maybe the Kitchen, or the Cellar, because I know that I have contributed more to the Building of that Home than any one living. I have not only made Chewing Gum a pastime but I have made it an Art. I have brought it right out in Public and Chewed before some of the oldest Political Families of Massachusetts.

    I have had Senator Lodge (who can take the poorest arguments in the World and dress them up in perfect English and sell them) after hearing my Act on the Stage, say: "William" (that's English for Will), "William, I could not comprehend a word of the Language you speak, but you do Masticate uncompromisingly excellent."

    This reception which I received at the Wrigley Home was so in contrast to the one which I received at Mr. Adolphus Busch's in St. Louis. When he heard that one of his best Customers was at the outer Gate, Mr. Busch not only welcomed me, but sent me a fine German Police Dog to California, the stock of which had come direct from the Kaiser's Kennels in Pottsdam. The Dog did wonderful until some one here by mistake gave him a drink of Half of One Percent Beer. He would have been six years old next May.

    After looking on Mr. Wrigley's home with much admiration and no little envy, the thought struck me: A man to succeed nowadays must have an Idea. Here I am, struggling along and wasting my time on trying to find something nice to say of our Public Men, when I should be doing Something with Dividends connected with it. So then the thought struck me: WHAT BECOMES OF ALL THE CHEWING GUM THAT IS USED IN THIS COUNTRY?

    I just thought to myself, if Bill Wrigley can amass this colossal fortune, and pay the Manufacturing charges, why can't I do something with Second Hand Gum. I will have no expense, only the accumulation of the Gum after it is thoroughly masticated. Who would be the most beneficial to mankind, the man who invented Chewing Gum, or me who can find a use for it? Why, say, if I can take a wad of old Gum and graft it onto some other substance, I will be the modern Burbank. (With the ideas I have got for used Gum I may be honored by my Native State of Oklahoma by being made Governor, with the impeachment clause scratched out of the Contract.)

    All Wrigley had was an Idea. He was the first man to discover that the American Jaws must wag. So why not give them something to wag against? That is, put in a kind of Shock Absorber.

    If it wasn't for Chewing Gum, Americans would wear their teeth off just hitting them against each other. Every Scientist has been figuring out who the different races descend from. I don't know about the other Tribes, but I do know that the American Race descended form the Cow. And Wrigley was smart enough to furnish the Cud. He has made the whole World chew for Democracy.

    That's why this subject touches me so deeply. I have chewed more Gum than any living Man. My Act on the Stage depended on the grade of Gum I chewed. Lots of my readers have seen me and perhaps noted the poor quality of my jokes on that particular night. Now I was not personally responsible for that. I just happened to hit on a poor piece of Gum. One can't always go by the brand. There just may be a poor stick of Gum in what otherwise may be a perfect package. It may look like the others on the outside but after you get warmed up on it, why, you will find that it has a flaw in it. And hence my act would suffer. I have always maintained that big Manufacturers of America's greatest necessity should have a Taster--a man who personally tries every Piece of Gum put out.

    Now lots of People don't figure the lasting quality of Gum. Why, I have had Gum that wouldn't last you over half a day, while there are others which are like Wine--they improve with Age.

    I hit on a certain piece of Gum once, which I used to park on the mirror of my dressing room after each show. Why, you don't know what a pleasure it was to chew that Gum. It had a kick, or spring to it, that you don't find once in a thousand Packages. I have always thought it must have been made for Wrigley himself.

    And say, what jokes I thought of while chewing that Gum! Ziegfeld himself couldn't understand what had put such life and Humor into my Work.

    Then one night it was stolen, and another piece was substituted in its place, but the minute I started in to work on this other Piece I knew that someone had made a switch. I knew this was a Fake. i hadn't been out on the Stage 3 minutes until half of the audience were asleep and the other half were hissing me. So I just want to say you can't exercise too much care and judgment in the selection of your Gum, because if it acts that way with me in my work, it must do the same with others, only they have not made the study of it that I have.

    Now you take Bryan. I lay his downfall to Gum. You put that manon good Gum and he will be parking it right under the White House Dinner Table.

    Now, some Gum won't stick easy. It's hard to transfer from  your hand to the Chair. Other kinds are heavy and pull hard. It's almost impossible to remove them from Wood or Varnish without losing a certain amount of the Body of the Gum.

    There is lots to be said for Gum. This pet Piece of mine I afterwards learned had been stolen by a Follies Show Girl, who two weeks later married an Oil Millionaire.

    Gum is the only ingredient of our National Life of which no one knows how or of what it is made. We know that Sawdust makes our Breakfast food. We know that Tomato Cans constitute Ford Bodies. We know that old Second-hand Newspapers make our 15 dollar Shoes. We know that Cotton makes our All-Wool suits. But no one knows yet what constitutes a mouthful of Chewing Gum.

    But I claim if you can make it out of old Rubber Boots and Tires and every form of old junk, why cna't I, after reassembling it, put it back into these same Commodities? No one has found a substitute for Concrete. Why not Gum? Harden the surface so the Pedestrians would not vacate with your street. What could be better for a Dam for a River than old Chewing Gum? Put one Female College on the banks of the Grand Canyon, and they will Dam it up in 2 years, provided they use discretion in their parking.

    Now, as for my plans of accumulation, put a Man at every Gum selling place. The minute a Customer buys, he follows him. He don't have to watch where he throws it when through; all he has to do is to follow. he will step onit sooner or later no matter where they throw it.

    When he feels it, he immediately cuts off the part of the shoe where it is stuck on, so he can save the entire piece. Then he goes back and awaits another buyer.

    I have gone into the matter so thoroughly that I made a week's test at a friend of mine's Theatre. At one of Mr. Sid Grauman's Movie Theatres here, I gathered gum for one week and kept account of the intake every day. My statistics have proven that every seat in every Movie Theatre will yield a half Pint of Gum every 2 days, some only just slightly used.

    Now that gives us an average of a Pint and a Half every six days, not counting Sunday where the Pro Rata really increases. Now figure the seating capacity of the Theatre and you arrive at just what our Proposition will yield in a good solid commodity.

    Of course, this thing is too big for me to handle personally. I can, myself, disrobe, after every Show, one Theatre and perhaps a Church on Sunday. But to make it National I have to form it into a Trust. We will call it the "Remodeled Chewing Gum Corporation."

    Don't call it Second Hand; there is no Dignity in that name. If we say "remodeled" why every Bird in America falls for that.

    Of course, it is my idea ultimately after we have assembled more than we can use for Concrete and Tires and Rubber Boots to get a Press of some kind and mash it up in different and odd shapes.

    (You know there is nothing that takes at a Dinner like some Popular Juice Flavor to our Remodeled and overhauled Product. I would suggest Wood Alcohol. That would combine two Industries into one.)

    I want to put flavors in there where we can take some of this colossal trade away from these Plutocratic Top Booted Gentlemen. If we can get just enough of this wood alcohol into our reassembled Gum to make them feel it and still not totally destroy our Customer we will have improved on the Modern Bootlegger as he can only sell to the same man once.

    Now, Gentlemen and Ladies, you have my proposition. Get in early on, "Old Gum made as good as New." Think of the different brands that would be popular, "Peruna Flavor Gum," "Jamaica Ginger Gum," "Glover's Mange Gum," "Lysol Gum."

    It looks like a great proposition to me. It will be the only Industry in the World where all we have to do is to just pick it up, already made, and flavor it.

    I am going to put this thing up to my friend, Henry Ford. Think, with no overhead, how he could keep the Cost down. It's a better proposition than being President.

    See? He's hilarious. It's great. I like the part where he says "We know that Cotton makes our All-Wool suits." Boom. Roasted.

    Long live dedication!

    Thursday, January 13, 2011

    Another Poem Which I Have Written

    Stanching the Flow

    Today, I performed an experiment.
    I sent a bucket down
    and then pulled it back up.

    It was as I feared:
    the bucket was dry.

    I had been feeling it for weeks, you know:
    brushing my teeth, I would bite down on grit
    or washing my hands, I’d have to wipe off a layer of slime.
    The soup tasted decayed
    and when I boiled noodles
    they would turn an unpleasant grey color.

    I had no idea, though, that the well was dry.
    Naturally, I have to figure something out now;
    how will I brush my teeth,
    wash my hands
    make soup
    boil noodles?
    I assumed the flow would never stop.
    I had taken it for granted I would always be able to
    up something, even if I scraped the bottom.

    What do I do now?
    What dynamite can blast loose
    the clog within my well?

    This could cause some serious problems for my publisher.

    Long live poesy!