Wednesday, March 25, 2009

This has all happened before...

One week has basically passed since I watched the last episode of Battlestar Galactica. I initially intended to write a complete review of all four seasons, including all the emotional investment I had in this show. After page six I realized I was really on an incoherent rant of adoration, so I have decided to regroup and try again, and maybe, just maybe I will let the long version out one day. Likely not though...

Battlestar Galactica is simply the finest piece of drama ever aired on television. From plot to character development, to Special Effects; simply fantastic, and surpasses my former favorite, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Rather than go on for paragraphs without end about how I discovered and grew with this show, I am going to list my ten favorite moments. If you have not seen season 4.5, stay away from 8, 9, and 10.

1) Lee Adama blows up a civilian transport. I was intrigued by the miniseries, but it was the first regular episode, “33,” which sealed the deal for me. For five days, the Cylons have ambushed Galactica and the fleet every 33 minutes. Finally, it seems the civilian vessel “The Olympic Carrier” might in fact be under the control of Cylon agents. There's no time to investigate, there's no time to evacuate. Adama orders Apollo to blow it up. That's when I knew this wasn't just any show.

2) Boomer lets everyone know she's a Cylon. We find out Boomer is really a Cylon at the end of the miniseries. Everyone else on Galactica finds out when she walks into the CiC and puts two rounds into Commander Adama's chest. Now that's a cliffhanger!

3) Pegasus returns. We find out Galactica was not the only surviving Battlestar, but Admiral Cain of the Pegasus is a lot more Darwinian then Adama. She's all about human survival; at least the ones who follow her orders.

4) Baltar wakes up one year later. The Colonists elect Baltar president, find a place to settle down, and form New Caprica. He's napping on his desk one day when he wakes up to the Cylon fleet flying over. So begins the occupation.

5) Saul gives Ellen a drink. During the Cylon occupation, Saul Tigh, Galen Tyrol, and Sam Anders run a resistance. In order to save Saul, his wife Ellen gives information to the Cylon occupiers. Saul poisons her. Here's a character I hated for this entire run, and in the moment she looks at the cup and says, “I'm thirsty,” you want it not to happen. Yet it does. And she dies.

6) Crossroads Part II. In ten minutes time, four characters we've been watching for years are revealed as Cylons, those Cylons are drawn together by the song “All Along the Watchtower,” and Starbuck comes back from the dead to lead them all to Earth. Everything you thought you knew about the show was torn away in ten minutes. Holy Frak.

7) The fleet finds Earth. All the signs and portents of the past three years bring them to a blue planet. They fly down to the surface; it's a ruined radioactive cinder. Earth, a world of Cylons, destroyed itself 2000 years earlier.


8) Gaeta's stump stops itching. Having lost his leg to Starbuck's quest for Earth, and then watching the fleet ally itself with Cylons, and THEN finding out Earth was a joke, Gaeta teams up with Tom Zarek to overthrow Adama. The whole episode, his stump itches and bothers him. When finally arrested and awaiting execution, he looks down at his stump in amazement. “It stopped,” he says, as the rifles fire.

9) Roslin is coming for all of you. During Gaeta and Zarek's coup, Roslin escapes to the allied Basestar. Zarek tells her over the radio Adama is dead. Roslin becomes death incarnate. The Cylons she's hanging out with? Scared Shitless. Roslin delivers the most chilling threat in literary history when asked to surrender:

No. Not now. Not ever. Do you hear me? I will use every cannon, every bomb, every bullet, every weapon I have down to my own eyeteeth to end you. I swear it! I'm coming for all of you!

In that moment, while the murderous, genocidal machines look on in horror, Laura Roslin becomes one of the five hottest women in Science Fiction history. She was always an attractive older woman. Right there though? Smokin' hot.

10) Starbuck learns Dylan. A mysterious piano player shows up, and reminds Starbuck of her father. He manages to remind her of a song her father used to play on piano...little ditty called “All Along the Watchtower.” The look on Saul Tigh's face when she plays it is absolutely priceless.

And that brings us to the finale- perfect. Completely perfect, I don't care what anyone may say about Starbuck's fate, the identity of the Cylon God (who doesn't like being called that) or Mitochondrial Eve. The show winds up exactly where it must, yet not in any way I could have predicted. Marvelous. I won't, but I could double the length of this list with moments only from that final episode.


So now it is gone, and I am going to miss it. I will tell you this. This is classic storytelling- the type of storytelling which will mean something different at different stages in your life, like a Shakespearian classic, or something by F. Scott Fitzgerald. Yet, the show was full of spaceships and robots. If you are a fan of truly great human drama, watch Battlestar. It happens to be sci fi, but I don't think you'll find anything in any genre more compelling. Thank you Ron Moore. I can't wait to watch it all again.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Much better.

This young lady needs to be the future of the Republican Party.

Perhaps one day I will vote for a McCain again.

John Galt who?

“Who is John Galt?” That's the question Ayn Rand opens the novel Atlas Shrugged with. Why do I pose it now? Well as of late I keep hearing people on the Conservative side saying Rand should provide a model for society, particularly this novel. Michelle Malkin recently cited the strike of the prime movers, or “Going Galt” as a way to stop the path of nationalization and socialization she sees sweeping the country. Stephen Colbert, in his usually hilarious irony, talked about the book, but used the description of the story as the one the Malkins of the world are hanging on to- The Government sets out to make sure the lazy can live off the fruits of the talented and these “Prime Movers” leave to start their own society where everything is pure unadulterated capitalism. Well Stephen and Michelle, now that we've discussed the Cliff's Notes summary of Atlas Shrugged, let's talk about it from the perspective of someone who actually read the book. I think both sides are going to be a little surprised by what they find.

Before I begin, let me state something quite bluntly: regardless of what fans of the book say, Rand's version of Capitalism is every bit as Utopian as Marx's Communism. I think there are some phenomenal ideas in this book, but as with any philosophy, it has to be filtered pragmatically through the real world for actual application. The thing is, the book is exceedingly Libertarian, and not Conservative, despite conservative efforts to claim John Galt. Indeed, looking at the recently departed administration, John Galt would be every bit as contemptuous of Bush era economics as he would the current lefty folks.

Take the characters of Orren Boyle and Wesley Mouch. Mr. Boyle is the head of a steel conglomerate which really makes an inferior product. However, he uses Washington lobbyists like Wesley Mouch to get contracts and help to keep his business going. Indeed, when one of the novel's heroes, Hank Rearden, creates a superior steel product, rather than actually try to compete with Rearden, Boyle uses lobbyists to try to alter the laws to give him control of the new alloy. Now, which side of American politics is using their lobbyists to protect corporate interest? To circumvent honest competition for contracts, and playing along with the no bid? Haliburton would be one of the “Looters” in Rand's novel, out to secure their financial futures at the expense of the country.

How about inheritance? How many people running the Republican Party today are self made millionaires? Obviously, the Bush family goes back a ways. John McCain took favors from his in-laws. This book is against all of that. Indeed, the Prime Mover Francisco D'Aconia gives up the money and business he inherits from his father, runs his father's business into the ground so he can rebuild it himself. So he knows HE was capable of even being a Prime Mover. No one gave him a baseball team. Or as the book says:

"Only the man who does not need it, is fit to inherit wealth—the man who
would make his own fortune no matter where he starts his money, it serves him; if not, it destroys him.” (page 314)

How about war? Obviously, based on my chosen profession I understand the necessity of war. Philosophically and ethically there are times you just have to go put metal into bad guys. The Prime Movers in this book are against war as being wasteful. In the same speech I quote above (and this book has a LOT of speeches, not just John Galt's 68 page broadcast) D'Aconia talks about money making war irrelevant because it provides a system of fair value exchange eliminating the need to capture resources... unless you are one of the Looters. Unless you are someone incapable of producing something of value to provide fair capital. In the book, John Galt's literal solution to oil shortages is to create alternative energy sources, specifically and engine which pulls static electricity from the air. Where was that thinking from either side of the aisle, except of course for the Green Freaks like Al Gore, since our first oil crunch nearly 40 years ago? Instead, we fought wars to keep the juice flowing. Galt would be ashamed.

Atlas Shrugged and Ayn Rand have a very different take on family values as well. The female lead in the book, Dagny Taggert, wants nothing to do with being a mom, has no consideration for the next generation, she wants only to run her business and be coupled with the best possible man. She pretty much shags her way through the cast of Prime Movers. And as she leaves each one of them for the better pure capitalist specimen, each of them look fondly on the next lover and say, “yep! I can't compete with that guy, he's way better than me!” What? Is that how family is America is supposed to be? I don't think that's what Conservatives are arguing for. I don't think ignoring the idea of future generations, or for that matter the book's illustrating the idea inheritance is bad sits in line with the Pro-Life crowd. Rand herself had no children, and at least one lover (allegedly) to go along with her husband of 50 years. Not exactly the ideal home environment the Conservative movement wants to promote.

How about educating the next generation? Actually, there is a little bit in the book on the subject:

From the first catch-phrases flung at a child to the last, it is like a
series of shocks to freeze his motor, to undercut the power of his
consciousness. "Don't ask so many questions, children should be seen and not
heard!"—"Who are you to think? It's so, because I say so!"—"Don't argue,
obey!"—"Don't try to understand, believe!"-—"Don't rebel, adjust!"—"Don't
stand out, belong!"—"Don't struggle, compromise!" (page 757)

Don't stand out? Obey? Believe and don't question? Isn't this a paragraph railing against conservative thought in education? For that matter, isn't this a little bit of a rail against religion?

No, because Ayn Rand's contempt for religion and the existence of God is blatant throughout the book. In this book, and in Rand's philosophy “Objectivism,” the highest thing in existence is the human mind. That's what drives the near deification of the Prime Movers in the book. Their creations, be it Galt's engine, or Readen's steel, or Dagny's bridge, or D'Aconia's mines are from the fruits of the mind of great people- therefore the ultimate expression. When Galt gives his 68 page speech he says:

"For centuries, the battle of morality was fought between those who
claimed that your life belongs to God and those who claimed that it belongs
to your neighbors—between those who preached that the good is self-sacrifice
for the sake of ghosts in heaven and those who preached that the good is
self-sacrifice for the sake of incompetents on earth. And no one came to say
that your life belongs to you and that the good is to live it.” (page 769)

“What is the nature of the guilt that your teachers call his Original Sin?
What are the evils man acquired when he fell from a state they consider
perfection? Their myth declares that he ate the fruit of the tree of
knowledge—he acquired a mind and became a rational being.
It was the knowledge of good and evil—he became a moral being. He was
sentenced to earn his bread by his labor—he became a productive being. He was
sentenced to experience desire—he acquired the capacity of sexual enjoyment.
The evils for which they damn him are reason, morality, creativeness, joy—all
the cardinal values of his existence. It is not his vices that their myth of
man's fall is designed to explain and condemn, it is not his errors that they
hold as his guilt, but the essence of his nature as man. Whatever he was—that
robot in the Garden of Eden, who existed without mind, without values,
without labor, without love—he was not man.
"Man's fall, according to your teachers, was that he gained the virtues
required to live. These virtues, by their standard, are his Sin.” (Page 780)

Are these the ideas Michelle Malkin wants to use in a modern conservative movement? Four Thousand years of Judeo-Christianity are completely flawed, and Religion has no proper place in either the mind of man nor his government? You can't claim Objectivism as Conservative without taking the whole shebang- you can't say you want to use Atlas Shrugged as a model without looking at the model as a whole. I don't think the majority of conservatives would sit well claiming the Atheist Ayn Rand as their new guru. Rand herself sets up the point of the book in one sentence which appears as an inscription in the new paradise the Prime Movers build in their hologram concealed valley in Colorado:

The door of the structure was a straight, smooth sheet of stainless steel,
softly lustrous and bluish in the sun. Above it, cut in the granite, as the
only feature of the building's rectangular austerity, there stood an

I don't think that syncs well with “Love they Neighbor as yourself.”

So, what is my take on the book? Well, I DO parse it out. I can do that, because I am saying there are aspects I enjoy and think are fine philosophy and not trying to claim it all unread. However, as I said it is quite Utopian. I agree with Objectivism that my motivation should be to take care of myself so no one else has to- but it ignores those who CANNOT take care of themselves. Unless we want to go all Spartan and start tossing imperfect babies into windswept crags (not particularly pro-life that- it's like abortion in the 5th trimester!) we have to make allowances for those who can't. It is up to us to make sure those systems are not abused by those who “won't” as opposed to used by those who “can't” but the systems need to be in place. Maybe that's my point with this whole blog. See, we already had someone who followed Ayn Rand making financial decisions for the country- Alan Greenspan. He was an avowed Objectivist, and in on Rand's inner circle while she was writing Atlas Shrugged. He made rules and reduced regulations based on the idea these companies would be doing the right thing. However, when asked by Congress what happened, he had to admit he was partially wrong about deregulation. Why?

"Those of us who have looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholder's equity -- myself especially -- are in a state of shocked disbelief.” So then, Rep. Henry Waxman presses him on the issue.

“In other words, you found that your view of the world, your ideology, was not right, it was not working,” Waxman said.

“Absolutely, precisely,” Greenspan replied. (New York Times)

See? Just like Marx felt the worker would always work for the good of the social commune, Greenspan thought the American Corporations and banks would act in their own best interests in such a way as to benefit the system. Instead, they tried to get rich quick, at others' expense. Not fair competition, not by EARNING your value (possible the most basic principle of Objectivism) but by abusing the system meant to allow them to work unfettered. Given the opportunity, they chose to be Rand's Looters rather than her Prime Movers. Economic utopia eludes mankind again. Rand claims greed is good, but ONLY if you have the ability to earn your wealth fairly, with your own gifts. Before anyone right or left claims this book as a guide, remember, it has been tried.

I think the most telling point is actually the end of the book (spoilers ahead!). It's the part which makes me most sure neither Malkin, the majority of Conservatives, or a whole lot of Liberals ever got that far. This perfect man, John Galt, who has never allowed anyone to live their life for his sake, has to be rescued from the Looters by the other Prime Movers. He is captured and tortured (which is also portrayed as bad, Mr. Cheney), and cannot in the end free himself. The others risk their lives and limbs to save him. In the end, the collective has to work to preserve the individual. Rand's Utopian personality doesn't make it whole to the end of the book- other people have to live their lives for his sake. As a young Libertarian I was devouring all 1200 pages of this book, loving every moment. Even at that naïve age, the ending left me with a sense of Rand deciding to negate the previous 1100 pages in the last 100. Galt can't save himself, he gets by with a little help from his friends.

Take another look from the Right before you hoist the Randian banner, and take another read Left before you dismiss her ideas that reason and rationality should drive everything. There's stuff to be gleaned, but I want to make sure everyone understands it before they hide behind their interpretation of it. Humans have done that with books before...

Before I end this ridiculously long tirade which is I think for no one but myself, I want to point out this cartoon:

Monday, March 09, 2009

Which way do YOU sway on this?

OK- I have a few more Watchmen comments since I have seen the coverage of the movie, and talked to other people who have seen it. The overwhelming response I am seeing is, “did you see Dr. Manhattan's wanker?” Well, of course I did, as did the grown women giggling throughout the film in the theater with me (minus my beloved Jennifer, who apparently is unmoved by blue genitals...I suppose I should be relieved?) on opening night. There are even people complaining the film should have had a higher rating than R, and primarily because of the animated male nudity- and keep in mind, that's what it is: animated. This is not Billy Crudup's actual willie (unless of course someone attached the motion capture sensors, what a job that would be). This is a blue CGI model of a penis, just like how Shrek is a green CGI model of an ogre and not a real one, and Jar Jar is a pink CGI model of a... whatever the hell he's supposed to be and not a real one.

Now (minor spoilers follow) this is a movie where a pregnant woman is shot in the face with a .45 automatic; the implication is made a six year old girl is butchered on a cutting board and we see two German Shepherds playing tug with her severed leg; a man is killed with a meat clever through his skull; several gangsters are graphically reduced to the consistency of chunky salsa; a man's arms are severed with a circular saw; a man severely beats a woman, then bends her over a pool table to rape her. Though I see some references to the graphic violence in the movie, I haven't really seen complaints (except the dramatic discontinuity of Dreiberg and Laurie killing a bunch of muggers, but elsewhere in the film being indignant at Rorschach and Ozymandias' methods). The penis however, warrants complaint and outrage. And girly giggles.

A Google search for “watchmen dr. manhattan penis” returns 77,600 results. And that's with “safe search” on. (And no, I didn't click on “show image results”!)

Why are we as an audience that hung up on the well-hung Doctor? Why aren't we hung up on the violence? I am not arguing that we should be- I do expect parents to be parents and keep their kids away from this movie (I am), but I am really disturbed at what our priority of outrage or preoccupation is. If nothing else, this evens the score for years of exploited woman flesh in comics and comic movies. Admittedly, there's some revealing female outfits in this film, but they are remarked upon as being fetishistic, and you don't get the full frontal the way the good Doctor repeatedly delivers.

Perhaps both the violence and the Blue Meany are too much, but I think there's a real issue with folks who DO have a problem with a penis, and DON'T have a problem with a bloodied stump.

Oh, and the Google safe search “Watchmen Dr. Manhattan wang” got 163,000 hits- one for each girly giggle I heard Friday night.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Reviews of things recently experienced...

Felt it was about time to throw some geeky talk up about some things read, watched, or listened to lately. There's some good, some bad, and there are better reviews than mine out there, but if I can warn you away from, or turn you on to something then cool!

Watchmen and Watchmen related products: There's a merchandizing blitz to go along with the movie. A lot of it is lame or makes no sense (the yellow keychains showing the doomsday clock with the blood drop on it...what? Completely inapplicable iconography). I have picked up the six inch DC Direct action figure set, and they are pretty well done, if you like the character designs from the film. The hovering Dr. Manhattan and the Golden Age Silk Spectre are the jewels of the line though.

There's a number of decent reprints of the original comic as well, which I am glad to see. My reader copy is about to fall apart, I may need a new one. So how do I feel about the film? I'm not going to rehash the story, but I give it a B+. I think it's a decent adaptation of the comic, with tweaks appropriate to film versus comics. It does make a couple of big missteps, but is visually stunning and has some really good performances from Jackie Earle Haley and Billy Crudup. They're actors I generally like anyway, but they truly bring their characters to the screen from the page. Now, I hear a lot of bad press on Matthew Goode's performance as Adrian Veidt- a character who is probably the most changed from the comic. I'm going to earn the eternal enmity of Alan Moore and many of his fans when I say I like the screen version of Veidt better than his print counterpart. As the world's smartest man, I really enjoyed the less obvious physical prowess, and I think his performance demonstrated someone far removed from normal human emotion and thought, and perhaps in his own way as detached as Dr. Manhattan.

The movie is brutal, even when it doesn't necessarily need to be, and on one occasion when it shouldn't have been. Then there's one of the most laughable sex scenes ever captured on film. Usually though, the movie is well on. It's not a flavor for everyone, and it asks you to pay a lot of attention to background details if you aren't as intimately familiar as I am with the source material. I am definitely looking forward to the extended cut, but was not as impressed by this film as The Dark Knight or even Iron Man. Cool though.

IDW comics is running the new GI Joe comic- one main title by Chuck Dixon, then two miniseries, one of which is by Larry Hama. Hama's work is supposed to be a lead in to Dixon's title (the origin of this re-booted Joe team). Yet, the tone and circumstances are so incredibly different they might as well be two different companies. If you can only go with one though, I have to recommend Hama's “Origins.” Dixon's work on Joe has always been lackluster to me (he took over GI Joe: Reloaded for Devil's Due Comics with issue ten, and rode it in like Slim Pickens ), and his work here is no different. I am sticking through the arc hoping it plays better whole than in parts. Hama's Origins is a solid read and a neat refurbishing of his original characters.

I am three episodes from the end of Battlestar Galactica. I pray to all that is holy they don't botch the end, because right now I am hooked up to my gills. I will give more when they do finish up, but even now, this show has given me the four best years of TV I have ever seen.

My good friend Eric recommended Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles to me. I had been reluctant to tune in, but you know what? It's groovy. What really sells me on the show is the idea that killing John Connor is only aspect of SkyNet's time travelling shenanigans. Stockpiling supplies, advancing multiple lines of AI so any one can evolve into the mainframe which actually causes Judgement Day- really neat thinking. Also, the writers have a slavish devotion to the first two films, and manage to completely erase the third! We'll see how the fourth plays out. I don't know if Lena Headey fills Linda Hamilton's shoes completely, but she's pretty good in her own right. She carries guns real good.

Watched M. Night Shymalan's Lady in the Water the other day, and got turned on to the end credit music, a little indy band called Whisper in the Noise. They do these very ethereal deliberate songs, and are really worth checking out.

Oh, before I go- one more gratuitous shot of Carla Gugino. She doesn't shy away from dangerous roles, and makes any movie she's in dramatically more watchable.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Hush Hush, keep it down now...

I don't want to talk about these things, but I really want to complain.

I am having a crisis. There's some stuff going on in the media right now which I desperately want to treat with sarcasm and disdain, because these are things that have only received national attention because the media decided they should. Some of these issues are matters of batshit crazy people practicing poor personal responsibility, some are matters of irrelevant people being granted some form of misdirected relevancy by a lost flock. The thing is, people like this are getting off on getting media attention, and the media keeps giving it to them. I want to rail and rant about these issues in a cathartic flurry of acerbic wit and wordplay... but I can't. If I did, I would become part of the problem.

It's like the old problem of the loud mouthed white elephant in the room. You can try NOT to think about the loud mouthed elephant in the room, but the very act of trying NOT to do it, makes it so. (And yes, let he who has wisdom hear who this loud mouthed elephant may be.) I don't want to give more (admittedly non-consequential) press to a drug addicted loud mouthed elephant past being able to play a useful role in modern American political discourse; however, even by stating that I end up talking about it. I can't rail against the utter hypocrisy of the elephant being the standard bearer of conservative values in this country given his past and current actions. It would just be grist for the mill.

I watch CNN while doing my treadmill/bike/elliptical in the mornings. Every morning for the last two months I have had to watch twenty straight minutes of.... well, again, I don't want to actually talk about someone who has had far too much attention given her overused womb already. This sad, sick individual is only being enabled by news programs standing in line to demonstrate how sad and sick she is. The individual needs to institutionalized and the litter given to good parents while the news programs exploiting the situation talk about important things like the economy, our various wars, and just exactly what is being passed in legislation, and whether or not it will fix any of the big problems.

These are just a couple of examples. How many of these people do we see, struggling with weight loss? Marrying into a cult? Selling their shoes, snot, or kidney stones on eBay? Why do we care?

So, here I am speechless. I can only implore the media to stop covering trivialities, and the audience to stop asking them to do so. See? That's the real problem- why does the media push these dipshits? Because we ask them to! Their ratings soar when folks like these show up in an interview. Magazines sell when these people are on the covers. News sites treating these people with disdain, while still giving them publicity, get lots of hits. Put the magazine down, turn off the tv, and if you're online, email your aunt and tell her hi instead. If you need drama, watch a soap opera- I want news to be covered in news. I'm tired of seeing the Fnords...