Saturday, April 16, 2005

Zombies...In the Potable Sense

I'm not much of a drinker. I have no real qualms with it, I just wasn't raised in a drinking household, so as a form of recreation it isn't really second nature to me. I have been "drunk" probably three or four times in my life. I will have a beer or a rum n' coke when the occasion arises, and I keep a stock of liquor in my home, but I really have no dependancy. This being the case, I've had a lot of time with a clear head to develop some opinions about drinkers and drinking.

1. Know your limit. That is, know what it takes to make you drunk. This of course varies with weight and age and tolerance for alchohol.

2. Learn what kind of drunk you are and indulge accordingly. Really, if being drunk brings out any of the nasty parts of your soul, avoid it. Nobody wants to see that. If you are a happy, silly drunk, as I am, don't seek it out, but neither do you need to avoid it. Just don't become so addicted to the feeling that you become addicted to the drink.

3. Everything in moderation. There's really no need to overdo drinking. It can be bad for some, but there are plenty for whom it is a relaxing form of "blowing off steam". Benjamin Franklin had the right idea here.

Most of all, if you suspect or even know, that you are prone to alchoholism, stay away. It will never be worth it. I don't mean to preach here, these are just observations made in a clear state of mind by someone with no strong opinion either way. Three simple rules and a bit of common sense that will lessen any number of financial and social burdens. In my case, I think the last drinking I did was at Christmas, at a party thrown by one of the educational establishments where my wife works. I had a few R&Cs. Prior to that, I think I had some beer at a Sci-Fi convention. Before that, in the summer while BBQing I had some hard lemonades.

What I'm getting at is that you don't have to turn yourself into a zombie to enjoy booze. It can be a way of life without BEING your life. We all like to think of ourselves as smart people. Surely the wisdom of these rules is self evident.


Thursday, April 14, 2005

Satellite Controlled Zombies?

So there is an article in the current issue of Cell that describes scientists discovery that by flashing dead fruit flies with a laser they could stimulate movement, even flight. Apparently this works by activating the flies neurons. Well, to further prove the point, these scientists removed the heads from some of the flies and discovered that the process still worked. I love this. Remote controlled headless zombie fruit flies.



Now, my question is, and I realize that humans a "bit" more complex than fruit flies, does this mean that the bodies of the recently deceased could be raised to do the bidding of unearthly masters? As ridiculous as that sounds (Plan 9 from Outer Space), the above zombie fruit flies would have sounded a decade ago. It is very clear to me that the universe is so much more complex than many people are willing to admit. Every day new wonders are discovered, new details are unearthed and ancient mysteries have new light shed upon them. Who's to say that such a thing couldn't come to be?

How would we use our remote control zombies? I suppose it depends on how much control we actually had. What are the rights of the dead? Can they be used as slave labor? That's a ticklish question, eh? Does something that was once human retain it's human rights after death? What about the mice with 1% human brain tissue? Or the pigs with human organs? These are all excellent questions for debate and will, I am sure, be topics for discussion for decades to come.

Just because we CAN do something, does that mean we SHOULD? When does the value of a treatment or technique outweigh its moral outrage? I am glad that I have a limited time on this earth, because while these questions and issues are exciting now, I fear they will become the neck-bound albatross' of the next generation.


Sunday, April 03, 2005

Holy Day of Obligation, Batman

The end of an era. That's what people tend to be proclaiming it. I guess that's true. The passing of any great and influential person can pretty much be called that. The same was said of Johnny Carson and Elvis. They, however, weren't World Leaders or Shepherds of the Faithful (which is not to say they didn't have worldwide followings).

I'm not Catholic, although I am a Christian, but my wife is. John Paul II was her pope. He came to power when she was 17, and, though she disagreed with his policies, she respected the man. Which is not hard to do. He led an honest, faithful, loving life. It would be difficult for anyone to do any better. He stood by his convictions despite a tide of public opinion. How many of us can say the same?

I really enjoyed "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons". I think it'll be very interesting to watch Conclave in the aftermath of Dan Brown's books. Not that I think they are real, don't get me wrong. They contain real things, things that I knew about even before reading them, but they are fiction and I know that. A&D, however, shed a lot of light on the process that we are about to witness, in an entertaining way. I actually feel it was a better book than DVC, in a lot of ways. DVC got all the press and is soon to be a film, but I was much more interested in the story of A&D.

We'll have a new World Leader, Shepherd of the Faithful and Pope soon. Hopefully he will be able to take steps to improve the standing of the Church among the drifting masses.

Go With God, JP2

Friday, April 01, 2005

New Doctor Who Part 2

So in the course of a week, the new Doctor made his debut, quit, and has been reportedly replaced. Do you believe this crap?

In the first place, how can someone be so paranoid about being typecast that after seeing the reponse to one episode of one season of his show, he quits. That's ridiculous. I have no recourse but to declare Eccleston a flake. I wish him well with his career and hope every producer that hires him hears this story and takes heed.

I don't know the new guy, but I've read his credits and he seems popular and skilled at his craft. I trust he has his head out of his "arse" enough to know when he's getting a good deal. I've never understood the whole typecasting thing, or the reluctance to be tied down to a TV series. I suppose that's because I don't have the mindset of an ACTOR, or the eternal optimism that "something better will be coming soon". I just think like a working schlub who is glad to have a job.

TV used to have an image problem, but that's gone. Major, I mean MAJOR, Hollywood talent is on TV every week now. The only difference I see between TV and movies is the working conditions and probably the money. The upside of the money for TV has to be that it is a steady check. The downside, I imagine, is the gueling pace that TV production companies must keep. But what do I know, I'm not an industry insider.

Flame Off

"Sinful" filmmking

I've just returned from seeing "Sin City", and thought a review might be in order. I must preface this by saying that while I do read a few comics and graphic novels, it is not one of my major interests and I had never heard of this title. I respect Frank Miller, but I wouldn't call myself a fan. So take this as a review by someone uninvolved.

I am quite familiar with the work of both Robert Rodrigez and Quentin Tarantino, so the directorial styles were not disturbing. I was somewhat confused as to whether the film was meant to be an homage or a parody of film noir. This is because some of the writing and acting were miles over the top. Film noir, though I have respect for it, has never been of great interest to me. Sure, there are certain FN films that I have sought out, but mostly out of curiosity because they have been mentioned as influences for some other work. I know the style, the subject matter, and the character archetypes, but I was, nevertheless, caught a bit off guard by this movie. That said, I did not dislike Sin City.

I can't say I liked it, either. Although most of the blood was not red, it is a very bloody, violent film. That doesn't bother me, as long as it serves a story-telling purpose. I'm not sure all the gore in this film does. There is nudity, but not an extreme amount, and not much sex, and it isn't graphic. There is some torture and deviant behavior, but for the most part it is integral to the story and serves to show the depravity of the villains therein.

It is told in three tales, bookended by the end and "beginning" of one of the minor characters. One, which unfolds over the course of many years, begins and ends the film. In between we have a story which takes place in a few days, and one which takes place in a few hours. There is a scene during story two at a bar where all the heroes from the three stories are present, but have no reason to interact with one another. During part two of story one we see this seen from another character's perspective. The three stories have very little to do with one another, except that stories one and two involve different aspects of the same evil family. Story three didn't seem to have anything other than locale linking it to the others.

As you can tell, the kind of mixed, circular storytelling that QT used in "Pulp Fiction" is present here as well, and the violence reminded me of nothing so much as "Once Upon A Time In Mexico", so it's lineage is obvious. I had questions about the characters that weren't adequately answered, but they were ultimately irrelevant. I wouldn't discourage any adult from seeing the film, especially those who like dark, bloody, depressing crime tales, but this certainly isn't a kids movie, or one that is likely to put your date in a romantic mood.


Tuesday, March 29, 2005

The Department of International Meddling

Like so many Americans, I was in favor of our action in Iraq when they began. Partially because I was still outraged at Saddam for the invasion of Kuwait, but mostly because I had been lied to. Alright, so I did what I could to make up for it, even voting against GWB even though I didn't like the alternative either. Didn't work. So OK, what we did was wrong, in many ways, but leaving without putting things back in some sort of order would be absolutely irresponsible. So what I've come to believe is that, as the richest nation on earth and the Leader of the Free World, we have to meddle at times, but need to know when to stop.

I think we should have a Department of International Meddling that decides where and when we should push our values, ideas, and opinions. It should be a lot harder for a president to simply send the troops in and stir up a hornets nest. I really don't like one guy having that much power, it makes me uncomfortable. It might slow things down, but if meddling in the affairs of other countries was their only job, they would probably have a better idea of what needs to be done. There are good people in the world, and if you put them in the right places they'll do good things.

I would never knock our soldiers, and I know that they're putting their lives in danger for what they believe is right, but all the wailing and moaning about casualties is, I think, a product of late 20th century, post Viet Nam, volunteer Army warm and fuzziness. I think most soldiers know exactly what they're getting into when they join up. They know that they are gambling. A lifetime of respect and support and entitlements, skills that you can't get anywhere else, in return for the possiblity that they might be called to serve in time of war, and they might be injured or killed. I sympathize with parents and spouses and children who are left behind when the worst happens, but that soldier knew what they were getting into, and accepted the risk. Who are we to dishonor their sacrifice by implying they were dupes?

Anyway, the Department of International Meddling of course wouldn't have control of the troops, but they could do a lot of the stuff the CIA used to do before they got busted. Toppling governments and ruining economies. But the real tool of the DIM would be subversive thinking. Democracy is our most dangerous export, and freedom can't be given, it must be taken. We didn't truly understand our freedom until we had our civil war, and other nations, as much as we would like for them to, won't learn by our example. They will have to learn for themselves. It is sad but true.

Carpe Diem!

Saturday, March 26, 2005

I'm Obfuscating!

About once a year my friends, wife and I engage in a little thing called a LARP. For those of you who don't know this stands for Live Action Role Playing. It's kind of the bastard cousin of Dungeons and Dragons. Before you start imagining college students crawling around steam tunnels beating each other to death with sticks, let me firmly assure you that almost never happens. Well, rarely.

Seriously though, the genre that our LARPing takes place in is something akin to Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. Not exactly, but you get the idea. Vampires, those solitary creatures of the night, drawn together into clans by history and bloodlines, struggle to attain mastery over territory, each other, and mankind, often while facing down some other supernatural threat. The world is largely based on White Wolf Game Studio's World of Darkness, but is actually apart from it.

If you ever watched the Vampire:The Masquerade television series you'll get the idea, or if you saw the film Underworld. There is a lot of scheming, a few fights (imagined and otherwise), and a lot of running around late into the night being oh-so-serious. It's fun. Especially when you get to play someone who ISN'T a vampire. Last one I played in took place in Dublin in 1969. I was a local councilman and somewhat of a rabble rouser. We sat around in make believe pubs most of the night plotting political upheaval. Things really went to hell in a handbasket, but believe it or not, I survived the evening both physically unscathed and still not believing in the supernatural. I worked very hard to keep my eyes closed.

Anyway, I actually thought of a good convention game that would be a model for zombie infection. Everyone gets a badge and a couple of escape cards. A few might also have weapon or attack cards. Humans have different color badges than zombies. The game starts with like two zombies, who have in their possession a pad of green post-it notes. If they can sneak up on another player (they are forbidden to run) and place a post-it on his badge before he can play an escape card or use a weapon card, that player has become infected. He must then return to the referee and get his own pad of post-its, get the color of his badge changed, and go out to "spread the love". The goal would really be to see how long it would take for all players to succumb. And no chicken running off and hiding in a room either. Although, in the finest tradition of zombie films, you could make a small "barricade" of chairs in the hotel bar and try to fend off the growing horde of zombies who for some reason can't make it past the barricade. That would be cool.

So I hope some ambitious convention gaming chairperson will put something like this on, I'd love to hear about it.


Friday, March 25, 2005

What Voyage Next?

I'm really bummed about Star Trek:Enterprise being cancelled. Call me a geek but I really liked this show. I argued with the visual look of the show, maintaining that it didn't look as if it pre-dated TOS. I looked more like DS9. However, I can forgive that. After all, it's unlikely that todays viewers would go for something that looked like TOS.

I did have some problems with the stories from the first two seasons. Not so much with the season long Xindi story arc. I always maintained that the real potential of this show was to explain how the accepted technology and sociology of TOS came to be. And wouldn't you know it, this season, when they finally get around to doing some stories that explain things about Vulcans and Klingons and Tellarites and Orions, when they are using the transporter for casual travel, when the formation of the Federation is impending....its cancelled.

I had no particular qualms about the characters, although the pandering to the sexual whims of the audience made me shake my head. Don't get me wrong, T'Pol is hot. But I really don't think the amount of partial nudity used in the show was necessary. I gather that Conner is the big draw for female fans, now, but wouldn't they have been watching anyway? Isn't he, and to a certain extent Jolene, eye candy for an audience that has become more concerned with voyeurism than Star Trek? Not that they aren't good actors. They would have been that whether they took their clothes off or not. I'm just saying mistakes were made, and we the fans are paying the price.

I love where the show was going towards the end. Now we don't know what's coming next. Here's a crazy thought: Re-imagine TOS. Re-cast the show. Re-vamp the visuals to be more in line with the other series. Cover the remaining years of the NCC-1701 Enterprise between the last televised episode and the first movie. Give someone else a chance to play James T. Kirk and Spock.

Maybe Keanu Reeves and Thomas Hayden-Church.

Live Long and Prosper

What's So Special?

I'm very selective about the movies I go to see. I assume this is the reason I am so rarely disappointed. I don't just drive to the theatre and decide what looks good when I get there. If it has an actor or actress that I like or seems to have a story that I would be interested in, those are big marks in its favor. I don't really pay a lot of attention to commercials either. Most people know, although they often don't admit it, that what you see in the commercials are the best scenes from the movie. Not necessarily ALL the best scenes, but hardly a representative sampling.

Special effects extravaganzas don't really thrill me, either. Don't get me wrong, I like special effects, and when the film is from the pre-CGI days, I'll certainly sit down and marvel at what they were able to achieve. It's just that being a little computer savvy, as I am, I know what CGI is capable of. I know that were it not for time, processing, and monetary constraints, filmmakers could totally replace actors and we wouldn't know the difference. Polar Express is a good example of this. Granted, it didn't have a totally realistic look, but I think that was more a stylistic choice than a technical limitation.

The films that I really have a lot of respect for are Sci-Fi or fantasy films that can tell their story WITHOUT special effects. Because these kinds of stories often involve people, places or things that never have or do not yet, exist, visual effects are almost a given. However, a film like Blade Runner tells a futuristic story with virtually no effects. Sure, they have models and sets and makeup. They have some gun effects and some stunts and flying cars. But its really a pure story of
good and evil and what it means to be human.

There are a lot of special effects "Blockbusters" coming out his summer, and I'll probably see a bunch of them, but it'll be for a host of other reasons than how many digital fighters fill the sky or how realistically non-existent characters are rendered.