Wednesday, October 31, 2012

First Lines of "Red Mars"

"Mars was empty before we came. That's not to say that nothing had ever happened. The planet had accreted, melted, roiled and cooled, leaving a surface scarred by enormous geological features: craters, canyons, volcanoes. But all of that happened in mineral unconsciousness, and unobserved. There were no witnesses--except for us, looking from the planet next door, and that only in the last moment of its long history. We are all the consciousness that Mars has ever had."

- Kim Stanley Robinson, from Red Mars.

A few chapters in, this book is even better than I had expected, and I came into it with high hopes after reading 2312.

Related Posts:
Book Review: 2312
Obscure References

Governmental Roles in Disaster Relief

Now that it appears that the worst of Sandy's destruction has passed, the cleanup has begun. A good chunk of the work is being done, directed by, or funded by the federal government. So it's worth noting that Mitt Romney and most of the GOP have for some time now been promoting the dissolution or de-funding of emergency-relief agencies like FEMA. Johnathan Cohn details the role the feds play in the disaster and what removing this line of defense would mean. Money quote:
States do many things well and, frequently, the most successful federal programs are the ones that let states innovate or take charge in those instances when they are positioned to do so. Emergency management happens to be one of them: Fulgate’s mantra at FEMA is to let states take the lead, with the federal government giving them the tools to do their job. But even programs like FEMA require presidential-level commitment to a vibrant bureaucracy and, yes, serious federal spending. And that’s not something Romney, or his allies, endorse. On the contrary, one of Romney's core campaign commitments is a cap on federal spending that would require drastic cuts to domestic spending. If Romney sought to spare FEMA, as he has other popular programs, that’d simply mean more cuts to other programs—from food inspections to health clinics to air traffic control—on which public safety and well-being depend.
Romney really does believe that the private sector could take the place of the government. But I wonder what private company would have the resources to offer major disaster insurance, how much it would cost, and who could afford it. I also wonder what would happen to the many, many people who most likely would not be able to afford that insurance. IMO, a healthy (and not over-strong) federal government is necessary for these large-scale areas of public interest, like infrastructure, health care, and disaster relief. By deferring these costs onto all of us, we make them manageable while also recognizing economies of scale.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The Cabin in the Woods

Watched The Cabin in the Woods last night. Holy crap. It's now one of my favorite horror movies, up there with The Silence of the Lambs and Alien and all of the other classics in my queue. I don't want to expand upon why the movie's so damned good - part of the enjoyment is the utter surprise of what happens - but I will say that the story is self-referential in a manner that is respectful of its subject matter (horror movies in general) while still acknowledging the absurdity of it all. And done in such a way that it's still scary too!

As Jamie Frevele puts it on The Mary Sue:
"It’s awesome because it’s incredibly effective and well-done. The script, by [Joss] Whedon and Drew Goddard, who also directed, is just spot-on and clever, while also being scary and gory without being gratuitously violent. (It is, after all, slasher movie at heart.) One-dimensional characters are given depth and reasons for being there besides dying. Every scene has a purpose. Everything works beautifully in The Cabin in the Woods, and by the time it’s over, you can’t believe what you have just been through. It’s a movie that happens to you, because it hits you over the head with its sexy, beautiful brains."
IMO, I love the playing of horror movie paradigms in the same manner of Bill Willingham's Fables or some of Neil Gaiman does with fairy tales - by combining characters from different stories together and watching the fireworks. Good stuff!

The Embodiment of the Machine

Thomas Frank has an excellent examination of Paul Ryan ("All the Rage") in the November 2012 issue of Harper's. Money quote: 
"A telling incident in the life of [Paul] Ryan: back in April, the New York Times reported that he was a fan of the Nineties alt-rock band Rage Against the Machine. The members of the band, however, are well known for their leftist causes, and in August their guitarist, Tom Morello, declared that Ryan "is the embodiment of the machine that our music has been raging against for two decades."
This exchange represents, I think, something more than an amusing cultural clash: it is a metaphor for Paul Ryan's career. His meteoric rise over the past four years is partly due to his appropriation of symbols and rhetoric and, indeed, rage that used to belong to the left. Raging against power is how the machine--which is to say, the conservative movement itself--gets its business done."
A wolf in sheep's clothing, Ryan's public persona very eloquently masks his quite extreme position on many things. Frank does a good job pointing out some of these positions and tying them into the larger scheme where Republicans couch their support for moneyed power in the voice of indignant outrage. One example he chooses is Ryan's argument that corporations use regulations to stifle competition (he posits that small companies can't afford to comply with the fees and regulations that large companies can, so large companies gladly pay fees to keep their smaller brethren out of the picture), so all regulations are bad. This argument  sadly, misses the lesson that so many missed in our most recent financial crisis, namely that a certain amount of regulations are needed to protect society from powerful companies and industries. Hiding this support for the "machine" behind passionate & progressive-sounding rhetoric is a cynical yet powerful tactic that progressives have yet to find an effective way to combat.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The New Language of the Cinema


David Mitchell's reaction to having Cloud Atlas adapted into film:
"None of the major changes the film made to my novel “threw me off” in the sense of sticking in my craw. I think that the changes are licensed by the spirit of the novel, and avoid traffic congestion in the film’s flow. Any adaptation is a translation, and there is such a thing as an unreadably faithful translation; and I believe a degree of reinterpretation for the new language may be not only inevitable but desirable. In the German edition of my last novel, my translator Volker Oldenburg rendered a rhyming panoramic tableau by rescripting the items in order to make it rhyme in German too. He judged that rhythm mattered more than the exact items in the tableau, and it was the right call. Similarly, when the Wachowskis and Tykwer judged that in a translation (into film) of “Cloud Atlas” Zachry’s and Meronym’s future needs more certitude, then I trusted them to make the right call. They want to avoid melodrama and pap and cliché as much as I do, but a film’s payoff works differently to a novel’s payoff, and the unwritten contract between author and reader differs somewhat to the unwritten contract between filmmaker and viewer. Adaptations gloss over these differences at their peril."
It's interesting that, in general, authors appear to give movie directors benevolent license to do whatever they have to do in order to make it work the big screen. Only occasionally do you hear of big disagreements like Stephen King's dislike of Kubrick's version of The Shining. It's very different than the typical reaction of the reader, who often intensely dislike having the pictures in their mind overwhelmed by the overpowering images of a movie.

Originally posted on Reading, Running and Red Sox

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

As a Reminder for the Next Two Weeks

"Political language... is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable."

- George Orwell, from Politics and the English Language

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

First Lines of "Rollback"

"It had been a good life.
Donald Halifax looked around the living room that he and his wife.Sarah had shared for sixty years now, and that thought kept coming back to him. Oh, there had been ups and downs, and the downs had seemed excursions into the flames of hell at the time--the lingering death of his mother, Sarah's battle with breast cancer, the rough periods their marriage had gone through--but, on balance, when all was said and done, it had been a good life."
- Robert J Sawyer, from Rollback

Picked up Rollback as my "easy" book as I work my way through Tom McCarthy's C (which has gotten much better than I wrote about the other day). One of the reasons I'm so excited about Sawyer's novel is because it's about older people dealing with new challenges, as opposed to most of SciFi which typically deals with young people. Here, the premise of this book is that an older woman has to get back into the game after a series of communications she sent out into space are answered 60 years after they were sent. There are complications - that's what makes the story really interesting - but the focus on older people is refreshing.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

First Lines of "C"

"Dr. Learmont, newly appointed general practitioner for the districts of West Masedown and New Eliry, rocks and jolts on the front seat of a trap as it descends the lightly sloping path of Bersoie House. He has sore buttocks: the seat's hard and uncushioned."
- Tom McCarthy, from C

I've heard a lot about this novel but, 27 pages in, I can't say I'm impressed. Low sample size - I know - but I'm bored and wondering why I should care about these characters. I've seen hints of McCarthy's "literary pyrotechnics" but, then again, a large majority of the first chapter consisted of nothing but descriptions of rambling around a large estate. Will stick with it, but I'm not left with a good first impression of this Booker Prize finalist. Here's hoping it's just a slow starter!

Update: The book has become much more entertaining after the first chapter, and I can see why people speak so highly of it now. Still, that first chapter had me worried for a while.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Art and Science as Two Entirely Different Things

"How often people speak of art and science as though they were two entirely different things... That is all wrong. The true artist is quite rational as well as imaginative and knows what he is doing; if he does not, his art suffers. The true scientist is quite imaginative as well as rational, and sometimes leaps to solutions where reason can follow only slowly; if he does not, his science suffers."

- Isaac Asimov

Monday, October 15, 2012

Bringing Back What Was Washed Out

Looks like the Bills really are desperate.

Short story: regardless of who they sign, until they find a real quarterback (Sorry Fitz, you're a backup and always have been), the Bills are doomed to be no better than .500. (Need proof, see "The Bad" section here.)

Friday, October 12, 2012

Friday Space News

More and more potential diamonds are being found in space. The latest is "55 Cancri e," "a planet 40 light years away from Earth [that' has at least a third of its mass made up of solid diamond."

As rare as they are on earth, being the most stable form of carbon, diamond is theoretically much more common elsewhere in the universe. This notion first grabbed my attention in Clarke's 2010 when he postulated a Jupiter with a diamond core larger than the size of the earth.

Bonus space item: An incredible unraveling Helix Nebula as tweeted out by NASA.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

First Lines of "Now Wait for Last Year"

"The apteryx-shaped building, so familiar to him, gave off its usual smoky gray light as Eric Sweetscent collapsed his wheel and managed to park in the tiny stall allocated him. Eight o'clock in the morning, he through drearily. And already his employer, Mr. Virgil L. Ackerman, had opened TF&D Corporation's offices for business."

- Philip K. Dick, Now Wait for Last Year.

Tackling one of the last well-regarded PKD books I haven't yet read, in advance of the upcoming movie. The first lines already are reminiscent of his other books: The put-upon narrator, the bizarre words, phrasings  and names, and the throw-away scifi elements, devoid of any glamour. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pumpkin Beer

Was at a party this Saturday that served up a bunch of Pumpkin beers. Here's what I tried:

  • The Shipyard Pumpkinhead Ale smelled and tasted a bit like cinnamon at first, but finished just like a regular lager. I liked it but it was a bit thin.
  • Cisco Brewing Pumple Drumkin. Way too much going on in this beer - the  nutmeg and pumpkin overwhelmed everything else. Tasted like a candy bar to me.
  • Harpoon UFO Pumpkin. Meh.
Comprehensive review of the sub-genre at boston.com here. I'm not impressed.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Russian Flight to Venus

This is cool: Don Mitchell's website that details the history behind and some crazy pictures from the Russian Venera landers, which landed on the planet in the 70s and 80s.

New Murakami Book Covers

Vintage has redone all of it's Murakami book covers in a standardized minimalist design by artist Noma Bar.
More information here. Murakami's books have really raised the bar for book design, IMO. Makes me wish I didn't already have most of these books on my shelves!

For more on other excellent Murakami book designs, check out:
IQ84: Paperback

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Intellectual's Discovery

"An intellectual is a person who has discovered something more interesting than sex."
- Aldous Huxley

Monday, October 1, 2012

Yesterday's Debacle, Explained

"The Pats ran against what can effectively be described as a 4-1-6 alignment for most of the game, [and] ...the Pats' ground game, which picked up 6.2 yards per rush."
From an accurate write-up by Buffalo Rumblings, the premiere Bills blog out there.

6.2 yards per run! No wonder the Bills got their asses handed to them. Despite all of the money laid out on defensive players this off season, the Bills still have the same old question marks. And I have no faith that they'll be able to address them anytime soon.

The only good news? Brady will be retired in a few years.