Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Reviews Too Late: Legend of the Shadowless Sword

The lineage of this film is a little unusual: it's a 2005 Korean production with Korean actors, the stunt team is from Hong Kong, the movie was filmed in China, and the screenwriter is someone named Paul Sheen, who has no other credits that I can find.

It's no surprise, therefore, that the result is something of a mishmash. It's not bad, in fact the movie's a lot of fun in a no-holds-barred, makes-no-sense kind of way, but it doesn't have anything that I haven't seem somewhere else, done better.

The Kingdom of Balhae (one of those that eventually became Korea) has largely been overrun by the Khitan barbarians. They've sent their Killer Blade Army to murder the various members of the Balhae royal family. The Killer Blade Army is composed of outlawed or exiled Balhaeans, and is led by Gun Hwa-Pyung (Hyeon Jun-Shin), a moody young fellow with a personal grudge against the royals. He's assisted by his murderous girlfriend, who--- like everyone else in the Killer Blade Army--- possesses various superpowers, including gravity-optional martial arts, the ability to fight underwater, and flight.
It's not surprising that the Killer Blade Army goes through the royal family like a claymore through goat cheese. Eventually there's only one left, a prince named Daejeonghyun (Lee Sio-Jin), who has been exiled due to an unspecified scandal. The problem is that no one knows where the prince actually is, so wise old General Ju sends Balhae's best fighter, a young woman named Soha (Yoon So-Yi), to find the prince.
Naturally the Killer Blade Army's looking for him, too. Soha's problem is that the prince has got himself a nice, raffish life as a receiver of stolen goods, and is understandably reluctant to become the king of Balhae, a job that comes with a death sentence attached. So Soha has to drag the reluctant royal across the country, evading his escape attempts while fending off hordes of assassins.
Much fighting ensues. The film is more or less a string of set-piece combat scenes, all of them spectacular. There is a fight on the road, a fight in a tavern, a fight in a temple, a fight underwater, a fight in a graveyard, a fight in the air. The Hong Kong stunt team brought their entire arsenal with them--- we see acrobatics, flight, people being hurled through the air, villains stomping their foot to cause small but fierce earthquakes, Soha waving her sword underwater to create a whirlpool that sucks her enemies to their doom . . . I'm sure I'm leaving something out.
But there's a problem with the special effects, stated thus: "In a world in which everyone can fly, flight loses its wonder." Sometimes I just wanted them to do some plain old kung-fu, but no, the movie kept piling one wonder atop the next until I lost track, and then lost interest.
It should also be noted that Yoon So-Yi is really beautiful, but not much of an actress.
As for the ending, it can go one of two ways. Either the prince escapes his escort, returns briefly to his louche life until tracked down by the villains and is killed; or he discovers his inherently noble princely nature, unveils the martial skill he's kept hidden all these years, defeats the bad guys, and becomes a great king.
Which do you think?

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Monday, June 29, 2009

Goldman Sucks

I admire a brilliant piece of invective as well as the next guy, and the best I've seen in a long time is Matt Taibi's evisceration of Goldman Sachs, which he blames for both the creation, and the collapse, of every financial bubble of the last century. (Wow! Talk about evil!)

The bank's unprecedented reach and power have enabled it to turn all of America into a giant pump-and-dump scam, manipulating whole economic sectors for years at a time, moving the dice game as this or that market collapses, and all the time gorging itself on the unseen costs that are breaking families everywhere - high gas prices, rising consumer-credit rates, half-eaten pension funds, mass layoffs, future taxes to pay off bailouts. All that money that you're losing, it's going somewhere, and in both a literal and a figurative sense, Goldman Sachs is where it's going: The bank is a huge, highly sophisticated engine for converting the useful, deployed wealth of society into the least useful, most wasteful and insoluble substance on Earth - pure profit for rich individuals.

They achieve this using the same playbook over and over again. The formula is relatively simple: Goldman positions itself in the middle of a speculative bubble, selling investments they know are crap. Then they hoover up vast sums from the middle and lower floors of society with the aid of a crippled and corrupt state that allows it to rewrite the rules in exchange for the relative pennies the bank throws at political patronage. Finally, when it all goes bust, leaving millions of ordinary citizens broke and starving, they begin the entire process over again, riding in to rescue us all by lending us back our own money at interest, selling themselves as men above greed, just a bunch of really smart guys keeping the wheels greased. They've been pulling this same stunt over and over since the 1920s - and now they're preparing to do it again, creating what may be the biggest and most audacious bubble yet.

If you want to understand how we got into this financial crisis, you have to first understand where all the money went - and in order to understand that, you need to understand what Goldman has already gotten away with. It is a history exactly five bubbles long - including last year's strange and seemingly inexplicable spike in the price of oil. There were a lot of losers in each of those bubbles, and in the bailout that followed. But Goldman wasn't one of them.


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Charlie, Dunked

Here is our cat Charlie shortly after the catastrophe.
It looks like he got totally immersed in water, or had a bucket of water thrown over him, or maybe got sprayed with a hose.
I don't know exactly what happened, I wasn't there. I only know that I came home and there he was, on the front porch, looking bedraggled.
I suspect that I, or more likely my personal property, will somehow pay for this.

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Reviews Too Late: The Assassination of Jesse James

This may be one of a very few films ever to be doomed by excessive devotion to its literary source material. (Watchmen might be another.) The full title, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, isn't the sort of name that Hollywood gives to its films: it's taken from the the Ron Hansen novel upon which the film is based.

I read the novel when it came out and it's terrific. Y'all should go out and read it right now.

Reading the novel will take a couple hours out of your life, and you'll have a good time. Watching the film will take two and a half hours, and it will be excruciating. The movie is like a much, much slower version of the book. About 45 minutes of the screen time is action, and the rest is composed of long, brooding, largely motionless shots of Western beauty, plus chunks of narration taken directly from the novel.

I'm completely down with the filmmakers being captivated by Ron Hansen's prose, but the voice-over narrative mostly tells us stuff that should, by all rights, have been dramatized. This is, after all, supposed to be a drama, not an audio book. The narratives make the movie seem even slower than it is; dramatizing the same scenes would make the movie seem to go faster even if they took up more screen time.

In a rather long narrative opening, the narrator/Hansen tells us a lot about Jesse James, including the fact that he had an eye condition that caused him to blink a lot. Someone should have read this to the director and/or star, because Brad Pitt, who plays Jesse, blinks maybe half a dozen times in the whole movie, and the rest of the time favors us with long, long, long intense blue-eyed stares.

The film also fails to tell us about a crucial plot point: the $5000 reward that the governor of Missouri had offered for Jesse's capture. This motivates much of the action, and provides the motive for Jesse to liquidate all his former associates before they can turn him in. A reward is mentioned at various points: we don't know how much the reward is, or that the $5000 would be a fortune on the frontier.

The cast is awesomely wonderful: besides Pitt as Jesse, we've got Sam Shepherd as Frank James and Casey Affleck, Ben's little brother, as Bob Ford. The minor roles are all extremely well played. Mary Louise Parker is wasted as Jesse's wife, Zee, who is absent for most of the movie, and silent for much of the rest.

But it's still maybe the slowest Western of all time. Read the novel instead. Here's how it starts:

He was growing into middle age, and was living then in a bungalow on Woodland Avenue. He installed himself in a rocking chair and smoked a cigar down in the evenings as his wife wiped her pink hands on an apron and reported happily on their two children. His children knew his legs, the sting of his mustache against their cheeks. They didn't know how their father made his living, or why they so often moved. They didn't even know their father's name. He was listed in the city directory as Thomas Howard. And he went everywhere unrecognized and lunched with Kansas City shopkeepers and merchants, calling himself a cattleman or a commodities investor, someone rich and leisured who had the common touch. He had two incompletely healed bullet holes in his chest and another in his thigh. He was missing the nub of his left middle finger and was cautious, lest that mutilation be seen. He also had a condition that was referred to as "granulated eyelids" and it caused him to blink more than usual as if he found creation slightly more than he could accept. Rooms seemed hotter when he was in them. Rains fell straighter. Clocks slowed. Sounds were amplified. He considered himself a Southern loyalist and guerrilla in a Civil War that never ended. He regretted neither his robberies, nor the seventeen murders that he laid claim to. He had seen another summer under in Kansas City, Missouri and on September 5th in the year 1881, he was thirty-four-years-old.

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Standing By

The Iranian revolution has entered a grim and secret phase. Grim, because the news is of mass arrests, protests being smashed, demonstrators beaten. Secret, because the situation may be resolved--- or not--- by maneuvers within the Iranian power structure that are opaque to those of us in the West.

Still, the cries of "Allah o akbar" are louder than ever at night. Three weeks ago, Iranians still had residual faith in their regime. Now there is little to none. The regime can stay in power only through the continuous use of force.

The strategy now would be to co-opt the regime's security force.

Here's the video of "Stand By Me" recorded by Jon Bon Jovi and Iranian superstar Andy Madadian. The recording isn't for sale, it's a free gift to the Iranian people.

Keep on crying in the night, all.

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Friday, June 26, 2009

Art Film

Women as well as men, everyone watching this film will feel the dissolution of all their certainties, all their illusory grasp on the world... but after you fall into a brazen despair that the walls of reality have become toxic ice cream of a million flavors, you will gasp with a greater realization: that once the world is reduced, forever, to a kaleidoscope of whirling shapes, you are totally free. Nothing matters, effect precedes cause, fish spawn in mid-air, and you can do whatever you want. Let yourself go in your adult diaper, Michael Bay invites you. Feel the music of total excess stir inside your deepest core. It is your Allspark, your cube. And you are a Transformer.

Charlie Jane Anders reviews the Transformers movie.

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Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Hostage Facility

All the thinking I've been doing about Iran in the last week has brought to mind something that I always thought was kind of obvious, which is that Iran talks big and swaggers rather a lot for a country that has a built-in on-off switch. By which I mean Kharg Island.

Kharg Island lies about 25 nautical miles off the coast of Iran, and is the facility from which it ships the vast majority of its oil to the outside world--- 950 million tons per year from the southern facility alone, according to one article.

Seize Kharg Island, and you can basically turn off the tap on the Iranian economy. The government can't pay the basij, so the basij go home. They can't pay for their expensive nuclear facilities. They can't pay for their military.

That's what happened to the Shah in 1979. The revolution dragged on for a year or so, but when the oil workers walked out, the King of Kings became plain old Mr. Pahlavi.

Kharg Island is a hostage facility. It's a shotgun permanently pointed at the head of the person who built it.

Not that I'm advocating any of this, mind you. I merely make the observation that if the Iranian government really piss off any country that could mount a large enough carrier task force--- uh, I guess that would be the USA--- that force needn't bomb Tehran, or nuclear facilities, or anything beyond the minimum amount of suppression necessary to secure the island. (And the island is a large naval base, so it wouldn't be a complete pushover.)

The disadvantage, from the point of view of the world economy, is that the world would have to do without a billion tons of oil per year for however long the crisis lasted. (I wonder if that's why all those bomb-bomb-bomb-iran guys never mention this option--- they're also committed to a petroleum-fuelled economy.) Still, Kharg Island was pretty much shut down during the Iran-Iraq war, thanks to Iraqi air raids, so the world has done without Iranian oil before.

I wonder how many other nations have on-off switches? Certainly Egypt is one--- they became a hostage the second they completed the Aswan High Dam. One sufficiently large bomb behind the dam, and a tsunami carries 99% of the population out to sea. It would be the greatest atrocity in history, but few Egyptians would survive to complain.

Mr. Putin has successfully demonstrated that he can hold Ukraine and much of Europe hostage, simply by turning off the taps that control oil and natural gas.

The US doesn't have any single switches that I can think of--- unless of course someone succeeds in switching off World of Warcraft, the dangers of which
this video points out.

Any other hostage facilities you can think of?

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Levy on Iran

Bernard-Henri Levy on Iran:

Whatever happens from this point on, nothing will ever be the same in Tehran.

Whatever happens, if the protest gains momentum or loses steam, if it ends up prevailing or if the regime succeeds in terrorizing it, he who should now only be called president-non-elect Ahmadinejad will only be an ersatz, illegitimate, weakened president.

Whatever happens, whatever the result of this crisis provoked two weeks ago by the enormity of a fraud that serious-minded people can no longer doubt, no Iranian leader can appear on the global scene, or in any negotiation with Obama, Sarkozy, or Merkel, without being haloed, not by the nimbus of light dreamed of by Ahmadinejad in his 2005 speech to the United Nations, but by the cloud of sulphur that crowns cheaters and butchers . . .

Whatever happens, the block of ayatollahs who had always succeeded in maintaining a united front, whatever their differences and divergent interests, will have put their ferocious divisions on display: the ones behind Khamenei, approving of the decision to crush the movement with blood; the others, like the ex-President Rafsanjani, leader of the very powerful Assembly of Experts, warning that if the wave of protests were not taken seriously, veritable "volcanoes" of anger would erupt. Others still like the Grand Ayatollah Montazeri who, since his house arrest in Qom, has been calling for a recount and for national mourning for the victims of the repression; and without mentioning the leading religious experts of the "Office of Theological Seminaries" who no longer fear proposing the possibility--what passed for heresy not long ago--of Khamenei's resignation and of his replacement by a "Guidance Council."

Whatever happens, and beyond these internal conflicts, the people will be dissociated from an anemic and fatally wounded regime.

Whatever happens, young people, who were believed to be enthralled by the principles of political Islam and who a month ago, upon Ahmadinejad's return from Geneva, had supposedly planned a triumphal reception for the president-non-elect, will have said, loud and proud, with an audacity matched only by their political intelligence, that this president shamed them . . .

Whatever happens, the people know, from this point on, that they are the people and that there is not a regime on earth that can remain in power against the people.
Whatever happens, a body politic has been formed in the heat of peaceful protests--and even if it gets winded and loses steam, even if the murderers think they can declare victory, there is a new actor onstage, without whom the rest of this country's story will not be written.

Whatever happens, the beautiful face of Neda Soltan, killed at point-blank range last Saturday by a Bassidj henchman, the images of kids beaten to death by the attack squadron and motorcycle infantry of the guardians of the revolution, the videos of the enormous protests, impressively calm and dignified, will have, via Twitter, circled both the cyberplanet and the planet.

Whatever happens, the emperor has no clothes.

Whatever happens, the regime of the ayatollahs is, in the greater or lesser long term, condemned to compromise or disappear.

We always forget that the other revolution--the first, which, 30 years ago, put this Iranian-style National Socialism into power--lasted almost a year: why would it be any different for this revolution, a democratic one concerned with what's right, which has also just taken the stage? The earth quakes in Tehran, and it is only, I'm willing to bet, the beginning.

Nothing like a French philosopher to sum things up in the grand manner.

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Simple Ways

Monday, June 22, 2009

Another Long Day

Another long day trying to keep up with events in Iran.

For those who wish to help Iranians and dissidents in other nations evade surveillance, check out
the Tor Project. Originally a project of the U.S. Navy and now spun off into a freeware company, Tor--- strangely sharing a name with the largest US science fiction publisher--- bounces messages around a distributed network to evade deep packet inspection and other tools of evil surveillance empires.

Be sure to read the fine print before you participate.

"A 19-year-old shot in the head and killed during the demonstrations... and Iranian officials asked his parents to "pay an equivalent of $3,000 as a 'bullet fee' -- a fee for the bullet used by security forces -- before taking the body back." One of the
most tragic stories I've read in a long time, by the Wall Street Journal's exceptional Farnaz Fassihi."

Time to get rid of these bastards.

I close with a video showing the bastards running.

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Outside Shot at an Oscar

The other day I found myself on the set of a low-budget film.

In recent years I've become interested in video technology for the masses, and how nowadays you can not only make a YouTube video for the change you vacuum up from behind the sofa cushions, but an entire movie.

I think the production budget of this feature was rather less than the cost of the single camera that was filming it. This wasn't a low-budget feature, it was a micro-budget feature. And it had a shooting schedule of something like sixteen days.

I was told to show up at 8:30am at a Central Avenue establishment called "Self Serve," which I naively assumed was a convenience store. I was delighted on arrival to discover that the store sold sexual aids.

Bingo! I thought. Mileage of anecdote now vastly increased!

I should have known. Staples of this kind of micro-budget movie are (1) zombies, (2) breasts, and (3) buckets of blood.

This movie does not have zombies. Therefore shelves bursting with sexual appliances are practically required.

Writer Devin and director Billy were welcoming, and I tried to stay out of the way as they went about their business.

Making a movie turned out to be just about as boring as I'd heard. Multiple retakes were necessary even when the takes went right. The writing was sharp, but even good lines fail to sizzle after you've heard them a dozen times. The fact that there was only one camera stretched things out, rather. And Billy kept coming up with new bits of business for the actors to do, so more takes were required.

That's when I was asked if I'd like to be an extra. Yes! I thought. Never turn down another shot at immortality!

I became a customer who wandered around in the background purchasing sex toys while the camera was actually focused on someone else. I was promptly equipped with a cheetah-spotted paddle and an environmentally-correct flogger, one made out of recycled auto tires. I received my direction, asked what I hoped were intelligent questions, and stood by waiting for my cue.

It's been nearly thirty years since I was last onstage, but I immediately began thinking like an actor. Is my hair okay? I thought. Can they see my bald spot? This is my absolute worst angle! I wish I'd worn something more flattering!

I began to work on my character. A cheetah-skin paddle and an environmentally-correct flogger--- isn't that a contradiction? One was recycled latex, but the other was made with the skin of an endangered animal. Obviously I was a character in conflict with myself! Possibly in psychological torment! Were the B&D appliances to be used to discipline my own unruly psyche, or to strike out at the world that so obviously baffled me? Maybe both! Maybe neither! O, the agony!

Breasts! I thought. Buckets of blood! Zombies!

No! No zombies in this picture! Don't even think about zombies!

Action! Carrying my props, I walked across the store to the cash register.

Action! Carrying my props, I walked across the store to the cash register.

Action! Carrying my props, I walked across the store to the cash register.

Action! Carrying my props, I walked across the store to the cash register.

(Repeat several more times.)

Eventually Billy decided that I had walked across the set so well that I was going to be given a little bit of business to do, plus a closeup. (Is my hair okay? Can they see my bald spot? Am I holding the paddle where the camera can see it?)

Action! Turn, look over my shoulder, turn back.

Action! Turn, look over my shoulder, turn back.

Action! Turn, look over my shoulder, turn back.

The sex shop scene was over. It was a wrap. The rest of the day would be spent driving all over town doing pickup shots, and even my curiosity did not extend to that.

The movie, called I [Heart] You, will be released later this year. Be sure to check out my Oscar-caliber performance, and--- if you're a member of the Academy--- vote as your conscience dictates.

For Billy Garbarina's previous epic--- which does feature zombies--- check out the Necroville Home Page.

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Friday, June 19, 2009


I haven't been posting for a couple days because, well, I have this life. I have friends, family, and a freakin' job. All of this keeps getting in the way of my Internet!

I realize this is overturning the natural order, but I'm all perverse that way.

I've been following the Iranian revolution via the live blogs set up by
Andrew Sullivan of the Atlantic and Nico Pitney at the Huffington Post. I can't seem to find a lot of coverage of the Iran situation on television, what with Rachel Maddow's up-to-the-second coverage of Nude Bicycling Day, Bill O'Reilly bludgeoning "liberal media" (whoever they are) over the Letterman/Palin dustup, and Larry King burbling on about American Idol. So it's either the blogs or nowhere.

How to help now that Google Translate is available in Persian/Farsi. A great guide is here. And please do pass along anything notable you find.

Also: Reader Dan notes that you add a translation bookmark to your browser to translate sites without having to return to Google. (Bookmark the English tab, not the Persian tab, if you want to traslate Farsi sites into English.)

Now that Khameini's proclaimed himself unequivocally for Ahmadinejad, that leaves only the options of revolution or surrender. Some voices from the streets:

Mousavi supporters were out on the streets 'Basiji hunting.' Their resolve is no less than these thugs -- theyre after hunting them down. They use their phones, their childhood friends, their intimate knowledge of their districts and neighbours to plan their attacks -- they're organised and they're supported by their community so they have little fear. They create the havoc they're after, ambush the thugs, use their Cocktail Molotovs, disperse and re-assemble elsewhere and then start again - and the door of every house is open to them as safe harbour -- they're community-connected.

The Basiji's are not. These are not the students in the dorms, they're the street young -- they know the ways better than most thugs - and these young, a surprising number of them girls, are becoming more agile in their ways as each night passes on.

“I will participate in the demonstrations tomorrow. Maybe they will turn violent. Maybe I will be one of the people who is going to get killed. I’m listening to all my favorite music. I even want to dance to a few songs. I always wanted to have very narrow eyebrows. Yes, maybe I will go to the salon before I go tomorrow! There are a few great movie scenes that I also have to see. I should drop by the library, too. It’s worth to read the poems of Forough and Shamloo again. All family pictures have to be reviewed, too. I have to call my friends as well to say goodbye. All I have are two bookshelves which I told my family who should receive them. I’m two units away from getting my bachelors degree but who cares about that. My mind is very chaotic. I wrote these random sentences for the next generation so they know we were not just emotional and under peer pressure. So they know that we did everything we could to create a better future for them. So they know that our ancestors surrendered to Arabs and Mongols but did not surrender to despotism. This note is dedicated to tomorrow’s children…”

Ms. Hilsum explained that one part of [Khameini's] speech that has struck some Western listeners as curious, his harsh attack on the United Kingdom rather than the United States, is, in part, explained by how very influential the BBC’s Persian language television and radio broadcasts are in Iran. Three decades ago that same station was central to broadcasting the Ayatollah Khomeini’s massages into Iran from abroad. The BBC’s influence, combined with the British part in Iran’s history, Ms. Hilsum said, makes it “the only country in the world where people believe America is Britain’s poodle.”

More than all the revolutions that you have mentioned (Velvet, Green, Berlin Wall, Tiananmen, Romanian) Iran reminds me most of one that you have so far skipped: Serbia in 2000. There a brutal but often popular regime had manipulated a number of elections over the course of years. The leader made a living out of bombast and blaming western democracies for oppressing his people. Eventually, he misjudged an election and made a clumsy attempt to cover it up with fraud. Fatally, he made the "mistake" of allowing peaceful demonstrations to take hold. Milosevic lasted two weeks.

Leading the populace to believe that its opinion matters is extraordinarily dangerous for a regime that has no intention of listening.

Iran’s Seda o Sima (State TV) internet site was hacked today. The title was changed to state: “When will killing brothers end?” Below is states: “Mr. Ahmadinejad, how long do we have to stand these images? The kids of the people are getting killed day by day. How long do you plan on carrying out this carnage? For the sake of power, you have stepped on the dignity of the nation. What will be next after you have killed and scarred the kids of this land?”

What we see here is astounding courage in the face of oppression. I watch with admiration and awe.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Mystery Pic

I was looking through the photo archives yesterday and found this.
Which brings us to today's puzzler. A genuine no-prize to the first person who tells me what this is.
And--- just for the record--- "a leftover piece of Sixties psychedelia" is not the correct answer.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Another Ringing Endorsement

I don’t say this lightly: This is Not a Game by Walter Jon Williams is one of the best novels I’ve read recently.


Watching My Uncompleted Novel Go Down in Flames

Here we have a video of an Iranian paramilitary before and after he fired randomly into a crowd of protestors, killing at least one person. (Well, they did set fire to his building.)

We can see his face. There are people watching this video who probably know where he lives, and who his parents and family are and where they live. I don't think he's got much of a future.

There is a scene just like this in the novel I'm working on. My whole novel is playing itself out before my very eyes. All its specialness and wonderfulness, coolness and invention is curling up and dying in fire, as if one of the incendiaries from Fahrenheit 451 found it before I could even finish it. The Twitter Revolution in Moldova was bad enough, but at least it didn't get a lot of coverage over here, and most Americans never heard of Moldova.

Iran is different.

I feel like all those guys who were working on Cold War novels when the Wall fell.

The parade of demonstrators in Tehran today was nine kilometers long. It's a People Power revolution fired up by social media--- you don't get a crowd that big by sticking up posters on lamp posts.

(Does the use of Twitter in Iran somehow absolve it of totally sucking?)

Hackers are also proving useful, by attacking Iranian government web sites. (But be careful, script kiddies of the world--- you don't want to bring the whole system down.)

If you want to turn your computer into a proxy server to help Iranians avoid government roadblocks, "Austin Heap" provides instructions here. Be sure to read the disclaimers. I'd do this myself, but I have to admit that it's all beyond my competence.

As a final note, I'm startled by the wave of support for Ahmedinejad by American neocons like Marty Peretz ("Maybe the regime fiddled around a bit with the numbers at the polls and after the polling. Still, the outcome had a sense of authenticity.") and Martin Rubin. Maybe if there's regime change, and the Iranians liberate themselves, then the neocons won't get their holy war with Iran, and we won't get to liberate the Iranians by killing zillions of them. A great disappointment, to be sure.

UPDATE: The neocons aren't all speaking with one voice, it seems. Bill Kristol now demands that Obama immediately issue a statement of support to the protestors. Why? Because Hitler invaded Poland in 1939! (No, really! Read it yourself!) Ahmadinejad is Hitler! Obama is Chamberlain! So I guess Kristol's idea is for Obama to support the protestors, Ahmadinejad to denounce them as American puppets and kill them, and then we still get to invade Iran! Yay!

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The Revolution, Televised

The revolution will not only be televised, it will be downloaded, remixed, Youtubed, Twittered, and set to a soundtrack by the Moody Blues. (Okay, I couldn't bring myself to link to that last one.)

On the unlikely chance that my Iranian revolutionary brethren are checking in at this moment, functioning proxy sites may be found at: port 3124 please RT #iranelection

Remember, comrades:

Purple raindrops fall at night. Purple raindrops fall at night.

Allah o akbar. Allah o akbar.

check check check. over.

Saturday, June 13, 2009


I have written elsewhere of my experiments with beer-can-up-the-butt chicken. It's tasty, it's ridiculously easy, and it's a lot easier to clean up than if you used your grill's rotisserie attachment.
But there are drawbacks as well. It's easy for the chicken to topple over and start a fire or get burned. I'm not sure how healthy it is to eat something that's had a burning hot aluminum object inside it. And there's the name . . . even if you give the dish a fancy French monicker, poulet avec le boîte de biere dans l'anus or something, it's still hard to serve at a fancy dinner.

I had some money left on a Williams Sonoma gift card, so I betook myself to that highly expensive foodie boutique, and purchased what I can only describe as an Avian Rectal Rectifier, pictured above.

This gadget doesn't mess around! It's stainless steel, it's got a kind of purposeful surgical quality to its manufacture, and once you've got the perforated Rectifying Probe jammed up the fowl's bottom, it's going to jolly well stay there through thick or thin!

So I gave the Rectifier a tryout the other day, and the results were splendid. The internal basting kept the chicken moist and tender even as the outside was turned brown and crispy. The lower photo shows the chicken about halfway through the process.

The reservoir doesn't have to be filled with beer, of course. (I used white wine.) So now I'm thinking about experimenting with other liquids, just to see what it would taste like. Brandy! Bourbon! Raspberry soda!

Any suggestions for what I should blow up my chicken's butt?

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Shortcuts Through the Ghetto

I was reading a fantasy novel the other day, by one of those "widely-acknowledged masters of the genre" we're always hearing about, and the story had a familiar sort of shape.

(1) Young woman moves into spooky old house in a small village filled with eccentric relatives and retainers.

(2) Spooky things happen.

(3) Heroine receives explanation from Local Crone, to-wit: "There are Pixies living in the bottom of your garden!"

(Or, for Pixies in the Garden, feel free to read Elves in the Attic, Fay in the Fireplace, Goblins in the Henhouse. Whatever.)

(4) Heroine slaps forehead, says, "Pixies! Why didn't I think of that!"

The rest of the book was the heroine dealing in fairly straightfoward fashion with the Pixie Situation.

All of which had me thinking, "Thank God we're in a genre novel!" Because if we weren't in a genre novel, the story would have featured a different Stage (4), in which the heroine decided that the Local Crone was batty, and gone about her life in a perfectly rational manner, setting out humane traps for whatever animals she actually thought were living in the garden, or maybe leaving around poisoned baits, and in the end being kidnapped by a tribe of enraged Pixies and turned into barbecue in the Otherworldly Secret Pixie HQ Beneath the Rhododendra.

But luckily for the protagonist, she was the heroine of a novel set in a genre in which people automatically believe the Local Crone, or the Wizard with the Pointy Hat, or whatever other elderly person may be in authority. Because as we all know, old people are benign, or at worse disinterested, and aren't crazy, and never lie, and always know more about what's going on than we do, and never try to take advantage of a young credulous person for financial gain or mere viciousness, whichever might apply.

And being in a genre novel also saved us about 50 pages of argument reading more or less like this:


HEROINE: No way!

LC: Way!

H: No way!

LC: Way!

Phew! Aren't you glad we don't have to read all that?

It's not like fantasy has a monopoly on that kind of thing. If fantasy takes place in a world where Pixies live in the garden and batty old ladies are Secret Masters of the Universe, genre romance takes place in the universe in which the heroine and the hero lock eyes on the first page, obsess about each other for 450 misunderstanding-prone pages (which may include Hot Sex), and then have an HEA. Because once they commit to each other, as we know, all their problems are over!

Cozy mysteries take place in a world in which rich toffs with eyeglasses, or weird comic-opera Belgians with mustachios, can barge into a criminal investigation, and the local police welcome them with open arms! (Cozy mysteries, alas, never feature Hot Sex.)

Hard-boiled mysteries take place in the world where half the police force is on the pad.

And science fiction takes place in a world in which someone can say, "I've just invented a star drive that will allow me to travel to Betelgeuse in 4.3 minutes," nobody ever says, "That would seem to violate many commonly understood laws of physics. I'd like to check your calculations!" (They never even say, "Good work! Let's have Hot Sex!")

Genre feels free to cut out all the boring, mundane stuff, and get to the part that turns the readership on. (Which is very often not Hot Sex, go figure.) We skip the part where the old lady tries to convince a modern young person of the existence of Pixies, we skip most of the really complex stuff that happens during courtship, let alone all the complex stuff that happens after marriage, we skip the scene where the weird Belgian tries to talk his way into the investigation, and science fiction skips, well, a lot of the actual science, especially if it's inconvenient. (Lord knows I do.)

I think I'm probably an unusual reader, though, because I tend not to like these shortcuts so much. I actually enjoy the bits where the the cool, weird stuff of genre rubs up against the real world. I think it's nifty when the scientist has a brilliant idea, but the bureaucracy won't let him fund it; I think it's great when the junior officers know how to handle the crisis, only the admiral thinks they're wrong and orders them to do something that will only make the situation worse; I like it when the one person who knows how to deal with the Pixie Situation finds himself interviewed in a padded cell by the nice doctors at Bellevue.

Introducing all this fine grit into the well-oiled machinery of genre makes me think the work has something to do with the world I actually live in--- because, let's face it, I can never in real life get my personal machinery completely grit-free. (Which has unfortunate consequences during the Hot Sex, but let's not get into that.)

Plus--- on the fictioneering side--- Reality simply becomes another obstacle that the protagonist has to overcome! And when that happens, it's much, much cooler!

Reality! It's the new black!

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Planets Found and Lost

News from the World O' Science:

We may have seen our first extra-galactic planet. Micro-lensing may have shown that a star in the Andromeda Galaxy has a planet six times the size of Jupiter.

The advantage of microlensing is that it works best for more distant objects, so it's ideal for planet hunting in other galaxies. In theory, it should be possible to see Earth-size objects in this way. The disadvantage is that microlensing is a relatively rapid, one-off event that lasts a few days at most. That makes observations difficult to verify.

It's hard to see individual stars like this, let alone planets. Astronomers have so far spotted only about a dozen stars in Andromeda in this way, and plans are afoot to search for lots more.

But get this: the light from one of these Andromedan stars showed a distinct variability that the discoverers attribute to an orbiting companion . . .

And (as Ralf pointed out elsewhere) a couple French astronomers have created a computer model of the next 5 billion years of our solar system's history. Result: Cosmic Catastrophe!

A number of computations resulted in Mercury's orbit collapsing and Mercury colliding with the Sun after about 4 Gyr. In a run where the minor axis was shrunk by 812 mm (32in), Mercury slammed into Venus just after 1.7 Gyr. In what the authors describe as their most interesting simulation—one where Mercury's axis was decreased by 468 mm (18.4 in)—Mars and Earth had a close encounter, passing within 794 km of one another.

Using this as an interesting starting point, the authors ran another series of 201 integrations where the semi-major axis of Mars was changed by up to 30 mm. Within 100 Myr of starting these integrations, five of the simulations resulted in Mars being ejected from the solar system. All of the remaining 196 cases resulted in various collisions between Earth, Mars, Venus, Mercury, and/or the Sun.

We'd better get off this planet in the next billion years or so, or else we're toast!

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Two More Appearances For Your Pleasure

I seem to be everywhere online these days.
First, there's an interview with me on Tor.com, wherein John Joseph Adams and I discuss This Is Not a Game.
And next, TINAG is reviewed by Paul Raven on authors-books.com.
I feel we should read This Is Not a Game as a genuine hybrid, an effort to take the best bits of the technothriller and the SF novel and combine them into something that can straddle both camps . . . This Is Not a Game is a technothriller with the distinction of being written with a respect for the reader’s intelligence, and I would love to see more books like it on the shelves at supermarkets and airports.
Buy more copies! All the smart people are doing it!

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Extreme Shepherding

Playing Pong with, well, sheep.

And doing many other things with sheep, all involving Samsung LEDs.

It's a clever viral marketing campaign. But don't let that stop you from enjoying the show.

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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My Book Fixes Computers!

This Is Not a Game can inspire you to fix your computer!
Getting your computer fixed is clearly one of the side benefits of owning the novel. More benefits will be revealed in time: clearly you need to get your copy now, if you haven't already.


Monday, June 08, 2009

Bible-Based Marriage Explained

Wow! Thanks to Mrs. Betty Bowers, I now have a better understanding of Bible-based marriage! (Which is a lot more complicated than I thought.)

(Thanks to Peggy Whitmore)

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Sunday, June 07, 2009

Avalé This!

The week's mail brought copies of the new l'Atlante edition of Implied Spaces, translated by our very own Jean-Daniel.

The title seems to translate as "Pocket Worlds."

Or maybe "The One Who Gobbles Worlds."

It has to be admitted that either meaning would fit the story.

I have a feeling the Benjamin Carré artwork isn't going to do sales any harm.

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Friday, June 05, 2009

Fun With Swine Flu

Where has Walter been this week? I hear you ask.

I've been in the mountains above Taos with a bunch of friends, eating well, hanging out, and trying to get the hot tub to work. (Stuck valve now fixed.)

All was well until yesterday, when one of our number came down with flu-like symptoms and confined himself to his room. This morning, one more friend began to feel badly, and it had to be admitted that I didn't feel all that great myself. (Dry cough, lethargy.)

Despite the letharegy, it was time to take action!

Fortunately we had an MD among our number, as well as a public health official. A relatively junior public health official, but one who could sound on the phone like a big, important public health official, possibly one with a medical degree herself.

Thus we were able to inform the state health authorities that our victim had been seen by a doctor, that he was exhibiting flu-like symptoms, and that he needed a test to see if he was suffering from influenza. So Patient Zero was carried down the mountain to Taos, where he had his test in the emergency room of the local hospital.

The test showed that he had Type A influenza, among which we may include the current species of Swine Flu. Since 99% of the cases of flu in this country are now of the swinish variety, it was wise to assume that we had all been exposed.

So we all had to troop down to the local Taos pharmacy for prescriptions for TamiFlu, which we are now diligently taking. I'm not feeling better yet, but I have confidence that I will improve.

At lease I won't need a flu shot, when they finally produce one.

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