Friday, January 27, 2006

God is dead

Last night I watched The Island with Ewan McGregor and Scarlett Johansson who live in a perfect world far from the outside world that is now contaminated. The entire population hopes for one thing -- to be picked to go to THE ISLAND, that last contamination-free zone on earth.

The world is one where the act of going to the bathroom monitors the levels of vitamins, nutrients, sodium, etc. in your body and your food choices are limited by what your instant urinalysis reads: like lay off the bacon, buddy, you got too much salt in your urine.

There is a psychiatrist/Father figure who helps you with your emotional problems and cameras everywhere to log your moods, talk, and body postures so that you can go to the psychiatrist to be adjusted and to talk about your problems. The population is not all younger than 30 and carries a good mix of people of all ages -- adult ages that is. There are no children, although there are a few pregnant women scattered here and there throughout the population, which is a surprise since the black clad guards monitor proximity between the sexes -- they keep them from touching, standing too closely together, or looking at each other too long. Everyone has a job, but it is nothing more than mindless assembly line drone work that doesn't stretch the imagination or the skills too much. Calm and stress free surroundings and jobs, three balanced, healthy meals a day with an eye towards good health, clean clothes and shoes, and people who care about your welfare constantly watching you. So what's not to like?


The environment is a special hatching ground for clones, walking, talking, feeling, thinking spare body parts for the rich and famous. Okay, so the feeling and thinking parts are blunted by the psychiatrist's programs and agenda, but some of the clones do begin to think and feel, touching off a hunt for the reason why and then a hunt for two escaped "products" determined to see the world and find their sponsors, leaving a trail of fire, death, and destruction in their wake as the hunters become the hunted.

One of the most interesting premises is that the United States would under write and sanction such an operation without having anyone on the premises to make sure the rules are followed or that the facility never undergoes periodic inspections by the government, but that is what keeps them operating under the radar in an underground military bunker in Nevada. Of course it doesn't help that the president also has a clone who has waited for 7 years to go the THE ISLAND and is still the unluckiest person there. The rules and morality are turned upside down in the clones' world but they are unaware there are rules or morality, just what they have been told and what they have been trained to do -- mindless work that keeps the rest of the percolating clone population alive.

Suspense builds slowly as you begin to realize along with Lincoln 6 Echo that something is missing from this idyllic world. He questions authority and has dreams that alert the sensors that something is definitely wrong. It is the beginning of the end for Lincoln 6 Echo's time in Eden and the beginning of his rapid descent from grace. Curiosity will not be tolerated -- or excused.

Despite the numerous and spectacular crashes, explosions, and death defying stunts, the movie still holds together and the characters could be living in a decommissioned military bunker beneath the hot sands of Nevada as I write this. Scientists and psychiatrists have always believed that they are GOD as they search for the Holy Grail of immortality and absolute control. The rest of us are merely lab rats in an endless maze drawn forward by the cheese of wealth, power, freedom, success, and/or fame. Along the way we check out the cul-de-sacs of career, family, fidelity, and infidelity, but basically we are moving toward a time when all our hopes, wishes, dreams, and desires will be fulfilled, providing scientists and psychiatrists with fodder for their experiments.

Who knows? Maybe Adam and Eve weren't expelled from Eden. Maybe they escaped out of curiosity and/or from boredom. And then there's the whole not having sex part of it. Lincoln and Jordan, after being in the world a few hours, discover kissing. One of the best lines in the movie is when they kiss for the first time, decide they like it, and Lincoln wants Jordan to "do that thing with your tongue again," to which she replies, "Open your mouth."

However, human nature being what it is, we soon chafe at the sameness of the corridors of the maze and seek to climb over the wall. Every time we end up killing GOD and trampling on his scientific data with a perverse and final glee, setting the rest of the rats free in the process. After all, we rats have to stick together.

All in all, The Island is a good movie that makes interesting points and makes you wonder just how far away 2019 really is.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

So THAT's what's wrong

If there are men in your life you've noticed that something with them is just plain wrong. You've matured, but they don't seem to have done the same. This is a disease and it has nothing to do with their Y chromosome. The Evil One sent me the info. I think he's trying to tell me he has MHS

The American Male Hobby Syndrome (MHS)

(aka Boyz and Their Toyz)

by Robert Bean (a victim)

I have a theory regarding what I believe to be a common, but as yet not formally recognized social phenomenon. In the spirit of the times, this phenomenon needs to be identified and studied, so that its victims can recognize their affliction and take counteractive measures. Although I do not yet have anything more than limited empirical evidence, that evidence is compelling. I am convinced that a non-trivial subset of the American male population is prime breeding ground for what I will call the American Male Hobby Syndrome (MHS). You, or someone you love, is bound to be infected.

MHS progresses through 5 easily identified and relatively well defined stages during the course of the typical attack. But before it can attack, the syndrome needs fertile breeding ground. The necessary ingredients are:

1) A (chronologically) adult male. I am sure that a Y chromosome is not an absolute requirement, but as I look around me, I cannot deny the fact that most women of my acquaintance are relatively immune to this affliction. I don't know why this might be so, but in the large, it clearly is. Perhaps the answer lies in the perennial adolescence that many women think many men are stuck in.

2) Spare time. Busy men don't have time for such foolishness. MHS flourishes best in the idleness that is the devil's workshop. Men busy with school or families or jobs (or all three) have real lives. It's the man who is settled in a relatively comfortable job and family situation whose roving eye begins to wander.

3) Discretionary income. For reasons we will see in a minute, MHS strongly selects for those with a few bucks to waste, and always leaves the victim with fewer bucks still.

4) An addictive personality. Those that have an addictive personality know it, and are prime raw material.

5) A magnanimous Significant Other. When in full force, MHS will try the patience of Job; only saintly loved ones will permit the cycle to run its course.

Stage 1 is short and sweet - Initial Exposure and Infatuation. Somehow, somewhere, perhaps at the behest of a friend, you try whatever it is, and find out that it's quite entertaining. You think "hey, this could be cool...". So you try to find a way to do it a few more times, usually with some urgency (MHS is not a slow growing, simmering thing. It attacks quickly, hitting you between the eyes), and the activity continues to intrigue. You can see the potential; the activity excites and fascinates, but most of all is FUN. But you are frustrated by your inability to perform the basics of the activity, and the frustration leads to Step 2 - the decision to Learn How.

Stage 2, the Learning How phase, is marked by a deliberate attempt to learn the fundamentals of the task at hand. It usually involves instruction: it may be informal (hanging out with someone who knows how and who will teach you), but it can often involve formal instruction (Park and Recreation evening classes, or lessons at the local shop, or seminars, or open houses, or how-to books, or whatever). Stage 2 is often marked by seeking out a local club, attending a few meetings, perhaps even joining. You outfit yourself with a basic set of gear, usually at the low to middle end of the cost spectrum, following the recommendations of a salesman at the local shop who patiently (and condescendingly) tells you what you need and why. Since you don't know any better, you buy what he sells you (not top-of-the-line, but not bottom either), and put your new gear to the test. If you are lucky, the enjoyment will not fade, and with persistence, a minimal competence will come your way. You get to a point where you can recognize somebody who is really good at this, and you are frustrated because although you can mostly do it, you still don't do it all that well. Look out, because if you are still with it at this point, you are a prime candidate for the worst phase of all - the dreaded Stage 3 - the High Tech phase. And don't kid yourself - every hobby, no matter how simple it might otherwise appear, can be and is turned into an incredibly complicated high-tech endeavor by merchants and participants alike.

Stage 3, the High Tech phase, is the killer phase - it is the longest, the most expensive, and the most intense. Stage 3 is the total immersion stage where you become obsessed with the details of the hobby, convinced that the answer to your ever-frustrating under performance lies in the fact that you don't have the right equipment. All your spare time is spent studying, thinking about, talking about, and doing hobby-related activities. When you are not doing this, you are at the store exploring the latest gadgets, schmoozing with other Stage 3 victims. All your money goes into the latest gear ("If only I had gizmo X"), convinced that with that 7th pair of skis, or that 6th pistol, or that graphite set of golf clubs, you could shave .5 seconds off your slalom time, score that elusive bull seye, or lower your handicap by 2 strokes.

There are several telltale signs of Stage 3. The victim subscribes to several periodicals devoted to the hobby (and reads every word of every article in every issue, and all the advertisements to boot - how else are you supposed to follow the latest and greatest equipment developments?), and has several books devoted to the most arcane aspects of the endeavor. His talk is laced with technical jargon that only another Stage 3 aficionado can understand. His loved ones have long since been bored to tears and wishes he would get a real life. Our victim has multiple different sets of gear, each specialized for a specific micro-optimization ("one racket for rainy days, one for cold days, one for doubles matches, one for clay, one for grass" etc.). If the hobby is practiced away from home, the gear bag weighs as much as our intrepid hobbyist - he is never without everything he might possibly need. If a club was joined in Stage 2, it is often abandoned in Stage 3 - the other members just aren't intense enough (there is a reason for this which we will learn later, but our intrepid Stage 3 hobbyist does not know it yet). All other symptoms not withstanding, however, there are two absolutely undeniable, incontrovertible signs of Stage 3. The first is numbers - the Stage 3 hobbyist is always tallying things - success rates, scores, number of times he did "x". Our Stage 3'r measures success by the numbers, always striving to better them (because he still believes it matters). The second sign is the worst - the shopkeeper of the local shop that specializes in this hobby knows you by your first name. He does this not so much because he likes you but because he sees more of you than he sees of his own family.

Stage 3 is so long, so intense, and so expensive that most people burn out during this Stage. If burnout occurs, our hero drops the hobby rather quickly and moves on to other things. This happens so often that there are even stores here in town that specialize in reselling the used hobby equipment discarded by burned out Stage 3ites.

If by some miracle you survive Stage 3, you might actually pass on to Stage 4. Stage 4 is the Mastery Stage. Despite all the junk you acquired in Stage 3 (which is actually more impediment than help), diligence, practice, and perseverance makes you actually somewhat capable at your chosen avocation. You begin to shed the trappings of Stage 3. You let your periodical subscriptions expire (although you might keep one for nostalgic reasons, but you only skim it, rarely read it). Of your umpteen equipment outfits, you find that you have a favorite one or two that you use all the time. You have learned what times and places give the most enjoyment, and you arrange to indulge your hobby only when and where the doin' is good, rather than every time and place you can. The most important sign of Stage 4 is that the numbers stop. You stop counting and keeping score, because you no longer have to prove to yourself or anyone else that you can do this thing (whatever it is).

An important aspect of Stage 4 is that if it is going to happen, it will happen in spite of Stage 3, not because of Stage 3. It is a gradual thing that sneaks up on you. There is certainly nothing in Stage 3 that contributes to reaching Stage 4, save the fact that Stage 3'rs spend so much time doing the hobby that they can't help learning something despite themselves.

Stage 5 is the Doing It For The Sheer Joy of It stage. Transition to Stage 5 is marked by two events. The first is the time you spend a day doing the hobby activity, and afterward honestly can't remember how well you did (you didn't count and you didn't keep score). I don't mean "pretend" not to. I mean really can't remember because it didn't matter and you didn't pay that much attention. The second marking event is the day where conditions are perfect for a hobby session, but you decide you'll do something else instead because you'd rather do that something else today, and there will be other good days when you can do the hobby.

If you are ever lucky enough to reach Stage 5, you might actually have found a lifelong pleasure. Something you can do competently every now and then for the sheer joy of it, having fun in context. If your family is still with you by then, they might even encourage the occasional indulgence because of the obvious joy you get from it, and because you no longer bore them to tears with the details. At this stage, if you are social, you might gravitate back to the club you left in Stage 3. But now you understand why most of the club members were not intense enough for your Stage 3 tastes - they are mostly Stage 4 and 5'ers, and participate in the non-competitive manner symptomatic of the later stages. The club is as much about being social as it is about the hobby, and at this point that is just fine with you too.

So now you know.

A little plug

My latest review is up for those who are interested in reading such things. Sometimes the review is better than the book.

That is all. Disperse.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Jumping on the Harry Potter bandwagon

It looks like the religious right have decided to take Harry Potter for their own and have cast Voldemort as the prodigal son? Evidently, Rowling was writing about more than magic and kids. Wonder if she knows yet?

As if that isn't unusual enough, there have been Jesus sightings -- or is that just Maitreya?

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Don't Hollywoodize it

A year or so ago I read Nevile Shute's On The Beach written in 1957 at the height of impending nuclear holocaust after the destruction of Nagasaki and Hiroshima with an atomic bomb. The world is being slowly destroyed by radioactive fallout that is inching slowly toward Australia, humanity's last stand. One lone American submarine, captained by Commander Dwight Towers, has made port there and will wait out the remainder of humanity's time under the command of the Royal Australian Navy. The book is an intelligent treatise on the way we handle life in the face of utter destruction and the characters are finely drawn and complex.

Then, in 2000, Hollywood came out with their version of the story and turned it into a movie with Armand Assante, Rachel Ward, and Bryan Brown and turned it upside down. I saw it yesterday.

I didn't mind the story being updated with computers and updated cars, technology, etc., but I do mind that they turned the story upside down and completely missed the point -- as usual.

The relationship between Commander Dwight Towers and Moira Davidson was all wrong. Yes, Moira was still on a self destructive man and alcohol binge counting down the hours until she either asphyxiated on her own vomit or killed by some stranger she bedded until she met Dwight, but Dwight was not the same. He had been turned into a sap. In Shute's book, Dwight was an honorable man who kept his wife and two children alive in his mind, even though he knows they are most certainly dead in a ground zero blast. He knows humanity is doomed but he is going to go down with it into the arms of his family and nothing is going to change that. In Hollywood's version, he sees his family around him, envisions them as they were and as he prefers to believe they still are -- waiting for him to come home -- but it is short lived when he meets Moira and falls into her voracious arms. He is changed by her and not the other way around.

In Shute's vision, Moira is pulled back from the brink of self destructive madness by Dwight's honor and his unshakable belief in his family and his marriage. She stops drinking and realizes that he is an honorable man, the last honorable man on Earth, and that changes her. She helps him gather gifts to take home to his children when his job in Australia is done and even has one made for his daughter. She is in love with him, but she doesn't suborn his honor or his fidelity to his wife. At the end, when Dwight takes his sub and crew away from Australia to sink her at the bottom of the sea with the gifts he is taking to his wife and his children, Moira looks on from the cliffs above the channel where the sub sails past to be close to him when she takes her pill and dies. Hollywood had other ideas.

Dwight goes mad when he realizes his family is really gone, blames himself for not being there when they die, and goes back to Moira when he returns to Australia after one last mission for the Admiralty. He's already succumbed to Moira's wiles and bedded her at her farm after she seduces him with Glen Miller and dancing, but he's going back to the woman he loves. Hollywood gives a slight nod to Dwight's fidelity and honor and makes him a patsy for Moira's self destruction, giving in to her on nearly every point. This Dwight is a man led by his hormones and not by honor, except when he stays with his Executive Officer and best friend while he dies from radiation sickness in the naval hospital. In the end, he forsakes his boat and his crew and his allegiance to America and comes back to Moira in dress whites to die with her, thus gutting the Shute's vision and the honor and decency of the characters just to show a little sex and romance.

Even Jules's death is not as it should have been. Jules died in a car crash during a race and didn't just go to the track, rev up the Ferrari, take it around the track at blinding speeds and then drive it at top speed through a billboard and to a fiery death. Jules didn't commit suicide, but he courted death with every race and death won. That's a huge difference.

While checking out the information to write this review of the 2000 version of On The Beach I discovered there had been another version of the movie made in 1959 with Gregory Peck as Dwight Towers and Ava Gardner as Moira Davidson. I haven't seen it but I have ordered it from Netflix and I will see it, but I'll bet that they have it wrong, too, and they have gutted Shute's core relationship and theme for sex and romance. The one thing Hollywood has yet to understand is that life doesn't always end happily ever after and that there is more to life than neatly tying up the loose ends with sex and romance. Life is messy and it is difficult at times, and sometimes it ends with honor and not with happily ever after -- even if only for as long as it takes to swallow poison to die before the radiation gets you.

Oh, and by the way, I would have chosen an actor to play Dwight Towers with a bit more steel in his spine who doesn't keep his lips pursed all the time who is a bit younger than Armand Assante. And whoever told Rachel Ward that she looked good should have given her a pizza and a sack full of double bacon cheeseburgers from Wendy's first.

That is all. Disperse.