Thursday, August 21, 2014

Kill Us, Vol. 2

How is the ongoing drama in Ferguson, Missouri like the movie Kill Bill, Vol. 2?  No, I am not saying Tarantino is a racist, far from it. There is no superficiality in this comparison. I will supply the hints, you will try to see the pattern. At the conclusion, we'll see if you're right or not.

Kill Bill, Vol. 2
The movie mostly centers around Bill's drunken brother Budd. He's a real sad sack. He lives in a mobile home parked out in the middle of nowhere, probably because Budd can't afford the rent at a trailer park. He works as a bouncer in a low-rent strip low-rent, most of the time there are no customers for him to bounce. His boss is an abusive coke head. His life sucks.

The Bride wants to kill him for his participation in the wedding-day massacre a few years back, the one that left her in a coma for years. The Bride is a former top assassin, an assassin of assassins, a complete professional.

His mobile home is in a gully out in the middle of nowhere. I did mention that, didn't I? Budd is a man of routines. He goes to work. He goes by a liqour store, a package store, for his daily needs. When he's not at work, he's in his old mobile home drinking himself silly.

What does the Bride do? This exemplar of assassins? She charges right in the front door. Budd disables her with a rock-salt blast from his shotgun. He then carts her off to an old cemetery and buries her alive.

These quotations are from the Guardian article:

Figures published last year by Missouri’s attorney general showed that seven black drivers were stopped by police in the town for every white driver, and that 12 times as many searches were carried out on black drivers as white, despite searches of white people being far more likely to turn up something illegal.

The penalties issued for minor offences uncovered during these stops make up almost a quarter of the town’s annual revenues, leading to resentment that poorer residents are being milked to fund the salaries of white bureaucrats. Some say that one of the defining sights of Ferguson comes on the days when traffic court is in session: a queue of black residents wrapped around the block, waiting their turn to be punished by a white prosecutor in front of a white judge.

Patricia Bynes, a Democratic committeewoman for Ferguson, concedes that the failure of black residents to vote in local elections has perpetuated the problem. But, she says, many "don’t show up because they are too busy working out how they are going to eat and feed their families the next day."

Tentative Conclusion
What do you make of this little puzzle, this conundrum of cultural tropes and sad history? "Racism!" you shout, but how does that fit in with a completely non-racist action movie?

A few more hints are needed.

Kill Bill Vol. 2
I believe in character-based fiction. The people embedded in the story drive the story, not the other way round. It's hard to see what I'm talking about in Kill Bill v2 because so much of the movie is wrapped around very good dialog. I'm a fan of noir dialog, and this movie has it, every damn word is Red Harvest gold. The truth of KBv2 is covered up by excellent filmmaking and dialog straight out of the heart of hardboiled fiction. Here it is, so simple, yet so easily missed. The Bride is a lethal creature, the deadliest assassin in the history of assassins. She wants to kill a man, Budd. He lives in a trailer out in the middle of nowhere, at the bottom of a gully, one road in and out. How does an ace assassin kill Budd? Well, she sure as fuck doesn't charge in the front door. She has to know, in part because she left one of Bill's henchwomen alive to tell him in volume 1, that Bill knows she's coming to kill them all. Bill would tell everyone, including his drunken brother Budd. Budd will be waiting for her, he'll probably be sitting just inside his door with a shotgun. So how does she kill him? The ace assassin would either...

...firebomb the trailer and cut Budd down when he runs out.

...or, the better approach, build a sniper nest on the hill overlooking the trailer and shot the man when he opens his door the next morning. If she wanted to kill him up-close, spine-shoot the bastard, then walk down and cut him to pieces with her blade.

But she doesn't do that. All the surface layers are a lie. The good dialog, the great acting, the sets, the noir ambiance, a lie. Underneath, Kill Bill Vol. 2 is another typical plot-driven piece of Hollywood shit.

Under racism, which is real, which is oppressive, is a system of control utilizing racism as one of its tools. Racism controls both the people oppressed by it and the people supposedly benefiting from it. It feeds fear and misapprehension. It is the perfect misdirection. The economic and political system in place in Ferguson is a microcosm of modern America. We are kept distracted by this or that thing. We are kept divided by race and economic class. We are told to fear each other. All the while, wealth is extracted from us, keeping us so busy with our daily lives, we cannot see the inequalities, the rigged game. Ferguson ably demonstrates what the rich have long known: it is possible to make money off of poor people, even against their wishes. The political power structure of Ferguson is parasitic on the black population. They use racism as a tool in this parasitism.

The shocking thing, whites go along with the inequality for almost the same reason the black community does. They're too busy, they're afraid, they're distracted...except they're afraid of their black neighbors. They've been told by word, deed, and image that they need to be afraid. They've been told it's a zero-sum game. They can hear the subtext of the message the police in Ferguson deliver: "You benefit from the system, look what we do to people who don't support the system." The cops could make it more blatant and shout, "It's all for you!" They don't need to, the message is clear. It's the other side of racism. Still the same coin. Control is still there. The present neoliberal regime sees the absolute necessity to divide the lower classes, to distract them, to make them afraid, to make their lives an unending rat's maze of difficulty. Like Tarantino's movie, this is at the bottom of the experience. Racism is the distraction, the tool, control is the plot.

Someone else gets it. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and I think alike. Here is the link to his essay:

One little point from Kareem's essay. Notice the power of racism to control not just the population, but the reaction to oppression. After Kent State, outrage and protest. After Jackson State, crickets.


Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Value of Fiction: We Can Dream It All Over Again

To those who have not heard, an unarmed young black guy named Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri was shot for jaywalking. According to the witness, his only crime was in trying to argue with the cop who approached him. I grew up around cops, and not one of the cops I knew would have shot a kid for a little lip. In my mind, I put one of them behind the wheel of the cop car that night.

    Officer Mucklow turned onto Green street. It was a quiet night. Two young black men were walking down the middle of the street. He had seen them around before, they were local kids. He wasn't sure, but he thought they both lived somewhere along this block. He eased the cop car slowly up parallel with them.
    "Hi, guys."
    "Hey, man."
    "Do me a favor and get up on the sidewalk."
    "We live just up there." The kid pointed to a house a few doors down.
    "Still, it'd be nice if you got up on the sidewalk."
    "I don't see why. There aren't any cars out. You just like bossing people around. We're almost home anyway."
    Mucklow smiled. "Tell you what. It's a slow night. I'm going to drive up to the end of the block. I'm going to wait there. If you two haven't gone home, if you're still walking in the middle of the street by the time you get to me, I'll give you each a fifty-dollar jaywalking ticket. How's that sound?"
    Without another word, Mucklow pulled out ahead of the kids. He drove down to the end of the block and got out of his car with his ticket book in his hand.
    The kids were still defiant, they continued to walk in the street...until they came to their houses. They each went inside.
    Mucklow got in his car and drove away. Quiet night.

There is also a chance that the real Officer Mucklow would not have said a word to the kids, it being a small town, no traffic on the side streets. Knowing Lloyd Mucklow, growing up across the alley from him as a kid, if he even turned down that street, he would have passed the kids in his patrol car, giving them both a friendly wave as he did so.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Old Man Shakes Fist at Draft2Digital

I was going to shift my free short stories over to, mostly because of the zany and burdensome formatting requirements at That plan is in the wind.

I tried again and again and again to arrange the formatting on my first short story, but I could not get rid of the chapter formatting their programming insisted on inserting into the ebook. It's a short story, it doesn't have chapters!! So screw it, screw free stories other than on my own web site. I'll add some value to the short stories, free chapters from my novels, and put them up at Amazon for 99 cents. I'll give more free stuff away on my web site as acrobat files. Too bad about smashwords. I can no longer afford to hire people to format my stuff for them. Perhaps I'll explore putting up mobi and epub stories on my web site.

After Draft2Digital's failure to handle a simple short story, I....I lost my temper. I changed my name to "F... Draft2Digital." There's no way to delete an account, you see. No way to delete a story draft, either. So I changed the name of the story to "F... Draft2Digital." What was I going to do, write a polite note to people who failed the first day of comp sci 101? Honestly, compared with the ease of use over at Amazon, D2D, smashwords, and all the rest are abject failures.

Not that I'm particularly happy with Amazon, but they are the best of the lot.


Friday, July 25, 2014

Game of Thrones Itches

There are no martial arts on display in Game of Thrones or in Song of Ice and Fire. There was the one sword master who taught Arya. The spooky ninja guy doesn't count, since that's magic. In all of Westeros, it's slash and hack. Once again we have a situation in which reality is cooler than fiction.

That's the European Middle Ages. The one on the left is, I think, a hip throw. We all know the one on the right, a  Jujutsu choke popular in MMA.

This one, a joint lock straight out of Judo. On the right, another chokehold.

Look familiar?

Even unarmed techniques against armed opponents.

The martial arts in Europe weren't restricted to unarmed combat and fencing. Specialized art forms for dagger combat, mace, war hammer, and pole arms were also developed.

I see no smash-and-bash here, do you?

Another little fact, peasants in some societies weren't helpless lambs. The deeply fearsome Swiss mercenaries were peasants. English longbowmen...peasants. For their own protection, peasants sometimes formed militias and trained regularly as military units, the militias of medieval Flanders, for instance, made up of peasants and ordinary city-folk. Just as in Japan and Okinawa, farm implements became weapons. The most fearsome of these was the Bill.

Based on a farm implement called a billhook, in use today for clearing brush, it was particularly useful in killing armored cavalry.

Then there's a unique weapon of the lower classes, in a class by itself. Can you say "Good day"?

That's the goedendag. Another way to meet and greet people. A "Hi there!" for the Middle Ages.

So where is all this marvelous inventiveness in Westeros? I haven't even seen a war hammer or pikeman. Daenerys's army, the Unsullied, are out of the Hellenic Age, for crying out loud.

All I have to say: George, TV producers, pick up the pace, would you?


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Saving Warrior's Way

Neither here nor there, up or down, but I finally saw that bizarre Koren/NZ action film The Warrior's Way. I'm not bragging when I say I could have saved that movie from ignominy.  Most of the rest of us could have done the same as well, but I'm the only one talking about it. I will tell you straight up how, call them The Four Sacred Secrets of how to save The Warrior's Way: over-the-top Anime doesn't work in live action, voice-over is only effective if making The Seventh Seal or a hardboiled detective movie, everyone hates effortless success, begin in the goddamned middle. One other thing, so maybe it's Five Secrets: cliches about ninjas are boring - true shadow warriors would adopt the latest killing technology.

First, this movie is a failure, a serious fuck-up from the dimension of epic fuck-ups. It grossed - grossed, mind you, I'll explain in a second - a little over $11 million on a $42 million budget. It's even worse than it sounds. The movie gross is divided up between the theaters and the distributor, which means only $5.5 million started its way back to the investors. Add the costs of distribution and marketing, which can be upwards of half or more of the production costs, and you have a return of $5.5 million on an investment of around $63 - 70 million. That isn't ordinary fail. Fail that heavy distorts spacetime. A tiny fraction of this is made back through DVD/blueray/streaming sales and broadcast fees from cable TV. But still, not enough to prevent the collapse of reality near the event horizon of this loser.

But it didn't have to be this way.

First, decide what you're going to make. You wanna make an anime, good for you, I love anime...only thing is, anime is animation, not live action. Even then, there's a big difference between the conventions of anime made for television, mostly serialized, and film anime. What works for Naruto or Bleach ain't gonna play in say, a Ghost in the Shell movie. The problems only multiply when trying to take Naruto into the realm of live action. Much of Warrior's Way reminds me of the "It's Raining Men" trailer for Kung Fu Hustle. This obvious attempt at replicating the antics of a fantasy anime TV show just won't play when real human beings are in frame. Ever since Stephen Chow started lampooning wire-work in his satiric kung fu movies, to do such things with a straight face is...well...ludicrous. Keep in mind, most of the people who will see a movie have already seen hundreds of movies and TV shows in their lives - and that's only the deprived. People who will go to see a movie like Warrior's Way will have seen most of Stephen Chow's movies, they'll have watched Naruto as kids, they'll be tuned into the joke. I just saw Warrior's Way on cable TV, but I can imagine what I would have heard in a movie theater: "Fuck, if I wanted to watch shit like this, I could have done that watching TV for free." Let me say it in all caps just to get my point across: THE CONVENTIONS OF TV ANIME JUST DON'T WORK IN A LIVE ACTION MOTION PICTURE! Don't do this. You wanna make a movie inspired by Naruto, do it as an animation. Maybe that's a little over the top, there is one way this could have worked. Hire Stephen Chow and make an action comedy farce.

Another related point before moving on: anyone else ever see one of the Lone Wolf and Cub movies, or read one of the Lone Wolf and Cub comics? I don't mind the idea of a man and the child/baby he's protecting on the run from assassins being used in Warrior's Way, it's just, by using a trope so familiar to fans of martial arts and action movies, you are going to create expectations. By making the movie the way he did, the director/writer Sngmoo Lee set himself up for failure. Know what you're doing. If you don't, this is what happens.

Second, narration, really? If your name isn't Billy Wilder I really wouldn't try it. Voiceover narration works well in noir, in crime dramas, in very serious films, and occasionally comedies or action comedies - the protagonist's narration in the first Kick-Ass worked pretty well. But it's a crutch when most other filmmakers use it, a cheap way of telling the story without having to actually think about what is the best way to tell the story. Just slap a voiceover on to explain shit that doesn't need to be explained in the first place, or that can be explained by the protagonist later in the film, or by a flashback. It hurts more than it helps in most instances. In Warrior's Way, which is essentially a flashy remake of an episode from Lone Wolf and Cub, it only drags on the audience as a frequent, unnecessary infodump. This is the truth at the core of narrations. When it provides insight into the character, necessary information, or entertainment, it's a welcome addition to the film. When it's not, and 99% of the time it's not, it's a crutch used by a bad storytellers to inflict unnecessary information on the audience.

Just had a thought. Given that the writer/director Mr. Lee has zero credits to his name and his only claim to fame, he has a master’s degree in cinema studies from New York University and helped found the film department at the Korean National University of Arts. Is it possible that the original screenplay was a vanity project that had lain fallow in the Wasteland of Discarded Ideas, only to be discovered by some idiot fifteen years after it was written? If this movie had been made back around 1998, before wire-fu and the endless homage to Hong Kong fight movies that was Kill Bill, yeah, it might have made its money back. Probably not, though.

Third, everyone hates effortless success. In some of the action sequences, we don't even see how the hero, the lone assassin Yang, defeats his opponents. Happens behind a screen, flash cut and they're dead, whoosh, magic sword death. Smoke and dust, dead. Yang kills hundreds with the effortlessness of a sociopathic child killing ants. Compare this to the master swordsman Kyuzo from Seven Samurai. He undertakes a solo infiltration mission in which he kills three bandits and steals one of the muskets. When he returns, he is breathless and sweaty. Early in the movie, we see how he can kill so effortlessly, he practices constantly. Even goddamned Naruto is constantly practicing and being tested by his instructors. Yang has no such mortal concerns as practice or fatigue, he is apparently some sort of god, able to wave his sword in the air without effort, killing millions with a thought. It gets boring after a while. If we know he won't have to struggle or fight, that he merely shows up to win, where's the fun in watching that? This flaw incapacitates an action movie, making what should be thrilling into an exercise akin to chewing gum...flavorless, tasteless gum.

Fourth - I switched up here - ninjas are boring. Seriously boring. Their standard tropes are on display in this movie: they arrive in vast herds, they are relentless, for some reason they charge straight at people, they only use swords and shuriken, and no matter how many are portrayed as arriving, there are even more hiding away somewhere nearby. The hero can kill millions, yet millions more appear by magic. How about a more sinister portrayal, which also happens to be closer to reality. According to one myth, a ninja with a poisoned spear huddled in a shit-filled cesspit for days in order to stab a great lord in the rectum. Another used poison in a prince's food. Another supposedly used a primitive hand grenade. Others used firearms. Then there are the myths that ninja practiced black magic, could change shape like werewolves, had the allegiance of demons. But even here, someone else has been there first, as anyone who is a fan of anime can attest. How about no more ninjas? To action filmmakers everywhere, use your fucking imaginations. No more Jason Bournes, no more ninjas.

Fifth, don't start at the beginning. We had to sit through interminable narration while watching just how Yang met the baby, why he did what he did, why he ended up in the old town out west. Who cares? SHOW US why we should care by starting in the middle, then building the story out from there. Start when he arrives in the town. Make the local bad guy into a corrupt sheriff instead of a supervillain leading innumerable witless minions. I'm not asking that Warrior's Way be made into a serious drama, I'm asking for minimal competence in storytelling. START IN THE MIDDLE. It's called IN MEDIA RES. Use it.

"Who the fuck are these guys?" See the magic of In Media Res? It creates an environment in which only the protagonist knows things, everyone else is in the dark. Jokes, serious dramatic moments, all sorts of humor, and action sequences can roll out of this disparity like fruit out of a cornucopia. Just one of the gifts from the storytelling device that keeps on giving. For instance, I'm convinced that the Conan reboot movies failed because they started from the beginning. Even the creator of Conan, Robert E. Howard, didn't do that. His first story featuring the Cimmerian started at the height of Conan's career, when he was king of Aquilonia. His second Conan story featured his hero as a young thief. Only the third story goes back to Conan's youth, and even then he's a teenager.

What did I like about this movie? I really liked the 1900 steampunk elements - cowboy bad guys with machineguns - I liked the failed amusement park in a decaying town in the middle of nowhere with a  troupe of stranded carnival workers stuck there - so reminiscent of the actual decayed remains of failed theme parks scattered all over the USA, not only the USA, but in Japan, China, everywhere. I like the idea of the hardcore killer learning to be an ordinary human being - and enjoying the process of becoming quotidian. But the rest, meh, I can watch an episode of Naruto and get the same.

This applies to all action movies, so go forth, make a film, and entertain me!


Thursday, July 3, 2014

Moshe Hogeg is under my skin

This fucker not only got under my skin, he's in my nose, stinking the place up. This rich asshole gave a guy a million dollars for the Yo app. That's all the app does. It says "Yo." It took the guy an afternoon to code the thing. There are similar message apps for free, like the Hodor app, so it's not like Yo is an original idea. Amount of money it's earned: $0. Amount of money it's expected to earn: $0. Technically it's "seed money," but it's still a million bucks and the kid gets to do anything he wants with it.

How would I utilize a million dollars? Well, I sure as fuck wouldn't give it to an ex-teenager for an app others have created as a gag for free.

First, in order that I could continue writing, and thus contributing in a small way to the intellectual life of humanity, I'd put half aside to live off of for the rest of my life.

What about the other half? I'd start two businesses. There'd be enough money to keep them running for a year. I don't know what they'd be, I'd want them to be self-sustaining, so probably a bakery, a coffeehouse, or maybe a restaurant. Thought I'd say a bookstore? Bookstores new and used are near saturation in Albuquerque right now. Maybe a computer repair shop. I don't know, I would figure it out. Even after the two businesses are up and running, employing upwards of ten to twenty people, there would still be money left over.

I'd send ten poor kids to votech or community college...or five kids to a four-year university. For free. No strings attached...well...maybe one. They'd have to go into the sciences or a technology field. If I went the votech route, they could choose to be anything - baker, accountant, car mechanic, anything useful. But for an undergraduate degree, something useful or utilitarian or in the sciences.

I'm not against some fun. Those big-budget movies, they employ thousands - if you include the theaters, and why wouldn't you? - most of them have a return on investment, and they are a creative endeavor in furtherance of the intellectual life of humanity...however small that contribution might be. Amusement parks, the same. Videogames, the same. By all means, make movies, write novels, employ people, enrich us.

Let's tally it up. My plan: two businesses started, eventually employing upwards of twenty people, five or ten kids on their way to a good sustainable life, and a writer who can continue to write.

But what did little Moshe get for his million? An app that says "Yo." An app that employs zero people, earns zero money, zero utility, entertains no one, and has zero sustainability.

That's what I'd do with a million dollars, Moshe, you clueless rich fuck. Kinda outshines your idea...and I'm not even that smart. You and your money are wasted space. Move to Singapore and stop stinking up the USA. We don't need you.


Monday, June 30, 2014

The Confusing Life of a Polymath

There are blogs about keeping parrots, ones about pornography, ones written by the fans of a particular porn star...there are an infinity of political blogs, an infinity plus one of writer's blogs, even blogs about cats pretending to be written by cats. Don't expect such consistency here.

I'm a polymath. To be fair to the polymaths of the world, I may be an eclectic and not a polymath...or am I both? I find it extremely hard to confine my thoughts to just one area. A narrow perspective is a horror to me.

It's a curse to be a polymath. No matter what day job I have, I write every day. No matter how much I try not to, I do a few math problems before going to bed. No matter how much I try to resist, I read in science and history - or sometimes the history of science, a twofer - every day. What's it get me?

Nothing, that's what.

We live a in a culture where everything I value is devalued. The only high point of recent months, Cosmos came back. Neil deGrasse Tyson temporarily reminded us of the grandeur and importance of science...which everyone forgot five minutes after it left the air. The only people who seemed to notice it were those opposed to science, because science asks hard questions.

Hard questions are seriously lacking elsewhere. For instance, Penn of Penn and Teller likes to brag about his Libertarian chops. Someone should say this in his exalted presence: It's awfully convenient for a rich man to believe in Libertarianism. Enshrine the winners, no matter that they might not be real "winners," and cast the losers in the dirt. Not exactly the path of the Buddha - Gautama Buddha, aka Siddhartha Gautama, was a prince who gave it all up to found Buddhism. By "give it all up" I mean he fucking gave it all up, all his wealth, all his power, everything, to beg for food, exchange his wisdom for simple nourishment. Either way, big fall from neoliberal grace for a Libertarian. There's also this question, which I'd also like to ask Rich Guy Penn: What is to prevent the concentration of wealth and power in a Libertarian state, since all but the most necessary taxes are banned? Gonna bring back Athenian ostracism? Assassination? We live in a quasi-Libertarian state now, with neoliberal economic doctrine dominating every aspect of life. How's that working out for us? Wealth and political power are being concentrated among fewer and fewer people. A majority in a recent poll of MILLIONAIRES demanded more taxes to reduce income inequality - you know the 1% are out of hand when the top 10% ask for more taxes. A quick historical peek at neoliberal economies will show that they naturally tend to the concentration of wealth, power, and societal control among a shrinking class of elites. How are Libertarians going to prevent the loss of their liberty? The easiest and least violent means would be taxes and regulation. Ah, can't do that, then they wouldn't be Libertarians. So it's violence then. I'm all for whacking billionaires, but in a Libertarian state they'd be expecting it, so they'd have a private army around themselves with nothing to prevent the formation of that private army. Libertarianism leads in the fullness of time to tyranny. Nothing preventing it, like, say, a government with laws about illegal tampering with the democratic process, a government that can cure wealth inequality through taxation.

Every now and again, I restart my study of mathematics from the beginning. I'm up through algebra now. I'm reading and working my way through two books, either of which, if I had them when I was a kid, would have made a tremendous difference in my life. Functions and Graphs, written by three Russian guys in the middle of the last century, translated into English and published by MIT Press in 1969. You can find a Dover reprint for sale at their site or Amazon. If I had access to this book - shit, if I had access to the first ten pages -  man, would my life have been easier than it was. The second book, published originally in 1976 and in print since then, is How to Solve Word Problems in Algebra, by Johnson and Johnson. This one is a feast of riches. It teaches more than math. If one takes the book seriously and does all the problems, the potential for duplicity in the use of language very rapidly becomes apparent, along with ways to tease truth from obfuscation. The reader's confidence only grows when it is revealed how to come to a solution while only knowing one solid fact and the relationships between that fact and the unknowns. Simple things, both books show simple ways to find underlying realities.

In science, I'm reading The Infinity Book. In history, The Wizard War by RV Jones. In fiction, reading an Ian Fleming short story collection.

In writing, three short stories in process, one science fiction, one fantasy, and one crime fiction...also working on a novel.

In computer technology, taking apart a faulty graphics card confirmed to me that the fan failed and the microprocessor has heat-induced hardware faults. It's fried, gotta get another one.

Gonna havta get a day job in a few months...hope not, it will slow things down.

That's a day in the life of an eclectic...or a polymath. Since this is the blog of an eclectic, I might discuss quantum mechanics next time...or the plot to a videogame...or my favorite novel...or why I hate ties. Death to routine thoughts in the everyday world!