We've had construction going on next door to us for about four full months now. They start in with the air-nailers and the circular saws and the stereo between 7 and 9am and they finish between 4 and 6pm. Most Saturdays somebody's been out here working too.
The noise is annoying, but the real pain of it is that it punches through the veneer of our denial about what's really going on next door: where we used to be able to look out across the neighborhood and see the hills in the distance, our windows are now completely filled with an enormous pair of two-story houses.
Our cute little house with its funky butterfly roof and roman brick fascade used to stand out in the block, an interesting, unique building among the more mundane ramblers and bungalows. Now it's hidden behind a gargantuan snout house.
We knew it could happen. The neighborhood is zoned duplex. Property values have been going through the roof for the last five years. No one was likely to restore the tiny little house from the 40s that once sat on that lot. But knowing it was coming doesn't make it any easier to face.
On Friday, the builder had to dig a trench between our house and the new building and in so doing broke off and cracked branches on several of our 40-year-old rhododendrons. What had been annoying and distressing became invasive and destructive. The tenuous grasp we had thus far retained on civility was shaken loose and each of us at different times confronted the builder and the workers in heated and exasperated tones. In anger.
Neither of us is accustomed to anger. We aren't good at it. Our arguments become unfocused and irrational. We lose our grip on what is important and on what is possible. Maybe anger does this to everyone, I don't know. In the face of our onslaught, the builder did the only thing he could do at that point: claimed regret and offered to pay for the damage.
An offer of money was no comfort to us when all we wanted was for him not to have done it in the first place. Not trash our bushes, not wake us up at ungodly hours for months on end, not build an ugly eyesore in our neighborhood, not have bought the property in the first place. We didn't say this, but really that's the only thing that could make us happy in our anger and our grief.
And so we have slowly subsided back into our stunned and pained state of tentative acceptance. But now with the added pain of shame at the way we reacted. And constant wondering about how we could have handled the whole situation better.
The Daily Telegraph reports on a Canadian scientist who has developed a gadget which stimulates the temporal lobe in such a way that the wearer will experience mystical hallucinations. The gadget is based on research indicating that some religious mystics may have actually been suffering from a neurological disorder called temporal lobe epilepsy.
The Telegraph had him try it out on militant atheist Richard Dawkins.
ObBook: Lying Awake by Mark Salzman
(via Boing Boing)
Over on Le Prêtre Noir, Fr. Bo talks about the difficulty of preaching the gospel to a pro-war congregation. He points out that the true evil that besets us is the division that is being sown in our midst, and that the solution to that is for every one of us to try hard to love our neighbors, and from that love, find ways to understand and bridge our differences.
We were watching some of the documentary content on the extended Fellowship of the Ring DVD last night. Tolkien repeatedly denied that LotR was written about the war, and I believe that he believed that. But, in this time, it's easy to read the Ring as a symbol of violent conflict. Reading Fr. Bo just now I flashed on the scene at the Council of Elrond where the ring is before the council and they have begun to argue about what is to be done. They don't yet recognize that the real enemy is their hunger for the supposed quick fix of power and destruction.
The Guardian wonders whether recent appearances by George W. Bush are really him or a trained double.
[some say he's the real deal, pointing to his usual strange phrasings]
Other experts disagree, pointing out that these consistencies originate with speech writers rather then the president himself, and that Bush's main vocal technique - the bewildered pause - is only too easy to imitate.
(via Making Light's comment section)
I like weird movies. But either I wasn't in the right mood or this movie is too weird even for me. It's set in early 1950s Idaho and follows around a young boy whose life is pretty much hell. Evidently the cinematography was inspired by the paintings of Andrew Wyeth, which results in a striking appearance (at least as much as I could see on our pan-and-scan video from the library), but the script is just so thick with metaphorical allegorical mumbo jumbo that it's practically unwatchable.
Verdict: 1-1/2 stars (out of 4)
Here's as good a place as any to point out the Viggo connection. We've been watching quite a few movies that are a bit out of the way from our usual default fare, and the motivation has generally been the presence of Viggo Mortensen in the film. For those of you who live in alternate universes from ours, Viggo Mortensen has been thrust into the public eye as a full-blown movie star by his powerful portrayal of Aragorn in Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings movies. His performance seems to have especially caught the fancy of legions of women who are as surprised by their sudden obsession as their friends are. Becky is one of these Viggoners so she has watched a large part of his oeuvre in the last several months including (in order of release date):
And, of course, more watchings of The Fellowship of the Ring (both original theatrical version and the new extended version with another half hour of movie and 763 hours of documentaries and extras) and The Two Towers than it really bears considering.
Anyway, there's a bunch of movies left so I thought I'd let my readers (reader?) know that if you wonder "why the heck did they watch that", chances are you now know the answer.
Watched this last night on letterboxed video tape. With this cast (Nicole Kidman, John Malkovich, Barbara Hershey, Mary-Louise Parker, and the incomparable Martin Donovan plus Shelley Winters, Richard E. Grant, Shelley Duvall, Christian Bale, and of course Viggo Mortensen. Adding Sir John Gielgud (in one of his last roles) takes it all the way into the absurd.), my expectations were extremely high, and those expectations were met and exceeded. I was just blown away by how good a film this is.
Having not read Henry James's novel about Americans in Europe in the 1870's, I can't judge how well writer Laura Jones and director Jane Campion captured the book. But the film made me want to read the book, and I consider that a mark of success in adaptation at least on some level. (There is an on-line version of the novel available here. I just put it on my Palm ;-)
As a film, I kept being startled by how beautiful it was in scene after scene. Sheer visual poetry. The story is tragic yet the tragedy is all from life, from the consequences of actions, not from twists of fate. Highly recommended.
Verdict: 3-1/2 stars (out of 4)
When I decided to start a web log, I sought about for a suitable name. I keep small quotations that appeal to me as memos in my Palm. One was from Wendell Berry's poem "The Mad Farmer Manifesto: First Amendment" and seemed to fit what I envisioned as the probable content of my blog:
To be sane in a mad time
is bad for the brain, worse
for the heart.
The full text of the poem doesn't seem to have found its way to the web yet. But the poem to which it is a sequel is. "Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front" is a wonderful denunciation of the more dreadful aspects of modern life. It starts off:
Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.
Read the rest...
I'm working with Qwest, my DSL provider to upgrade our connection from the 2-hour cutoff version we had to the always-on version that is now their default. Part of the upgrade requires that I replace my old Intel internal DSL modem (rant about the misnomer of this phrase left as an exercise for the interested reader) with a new external one.
You can probably guess the rest. Qwest tweaked the service on Friday, but the new modem was delayed in Colorado due to "adverse weather conditions", so I'm without DSL until the thing arrives and I can get it set up. I've lodged a complaint with Qwest about their lack of foresight in not checking to see if the customer has the equipment before they change the service. (To their credit, they were polite and helpful on the phone, but I did get the usual attitude I seem to get when I try to help someone improve their service: rather than thanking me for my feedback, they make excuses and try to explain away their failing. Sorry, if I'm not happy then you have failed. I don't care why you failed, just accept the complaint and feed it into your process improvement. Pet peeve #2378.)
Fortunately, my ISP, the uniformly excellent Drizzle Internet, still supports dialup access so I am not netless, just operating at decreased access speeds.
Actually, it's kind of surprising how useable most of the sites I frequent are at modem (real live modulator-demodulator) speeds (current connection 34.6k).
Of course my expectations have been lowered considerably by the only environment in which I've used a modem in recent times: accessing my Windows desktop system at work via a graphical desktop sharing program (usually the non-windows-specific VNC).
This is such a brain-damaged way to remotely control a computer that it's a constant source of annoyance to me. But since work uses Windows, there's just no other option. I keep meaning to try to track down a telnet service for Windows, but that won't solve the Outlook problem. Gah! This is part of the motivation for upgrading the DSL link so I can get a network set up at home so I can stop using dialup to access work and use the fast link like a civilized person.
Anyway, this is exceedingly dull, I'm sure, so I'll just shut up and go do something without computers for a while.
Watched the DVD of 8 femmes last night. Starring some of the best French women actors working, the performances are predictably wonderful. The story is one of those claustrophobic ones where everyone comes to the country house for the weekend and becomes trapped there when the weather turns bad. One of them is murdered and the others try to find out who did it. While you may feel like you've seen that movie enough times, writer/director François Ozon has done something truly original with the form. (It's based on a play by Robert Thomas). It's set in the 50s and on the surface, the movie is kind of a Doris Day confection complete with a musical number for each of the 8 women of the title. But the dark secrets that each of the women reveal as the story unfolds are in stark and hilarious contrast to the perky technicolor veneer. It's kind of strange having seen this right after Chicago since here is another movie full of not particularly admirable characters, but in contrast, they all come off being likable despite their faults. Maybe it's just because they're not all murderers.
Do not, under any circumstances, try to view this film in a pan-and-scan version. Ozon uses the entire screen and you don't want to miss a thing.
Verdict: 3-1/2 stars (out of 4)
Over the last month or so I read the entire 2000 page graphic novel epic in the 6-volume collection published by Dark Horse Comics. The story follows a bunch of teenagers in Tokyo many years after a major disaster cratered the city. It turns out that the disaster was perpetrated by Akira, a government experiment gone wrong. After the disaster, Akira was reigned in, but not stopped and the experiments continue. The books are almost completely black and white line drawing, and the drawing is the real attraction here. It's staggering to think about the amount of effort that must have gone into producing these books especially at the level of acheivement they exhibit. They depict a gritty futuristic Tokyo that is so detailed it's hard to believe Otomo didn't draw it all directly from life. The story is interesting enough, but in the end feels like a fairly straightforward adolescent wish-fulfilment fantasy (of the power variety, not the sex, more's the pity) despite the trappings of larger mythological themes. I was lucky enough to get these from the library as each volume runs about $25. There's a movie of this story that I've heard is kind of incoherent, so I thought I'd read it first so I wouldn't get completely lost when I saw the anime.
The Onion, that bastion of internet irony, read between the lines more truly than they knew way back in January of 2001 before George W. became our president.
The only thing I see that they didn't get right is that the Bush administration hasn't managed to authorize oil drilling in the ANWR. Yet.
Last night we saw Chicago at the North Bend Theatre. The movie is gorgeous, both because the stars and other dancers look great and also the overall cinematography. We hadn't seen this musical on stage, but it seems like they did a really great job with the screen adaptation. The nature of the story requires that the big dance numbers are very stagey, but the framing elements felt satisfyingly three dimensional. The song and dance throughout the film is dazzling, exciting, and often very funny.
Apparently people have been calling this a "feel good" movie, but they must not have seen the movie I saw. Roxie Hart is cheating on her husband with a guy who promises to help her get a start on stage. When her lover reveals that he does not have the showbiz contacts he claimed, she shoots him and tries to get her husband to take the blame. The only reason this despicable human being is watchable at all is that she's being played by the incomparable Renee Zellweger. Catherine Zeta-Jones's character killed her husband and her sister when she caught them together. Richard Gere plays a lawyer who will get anyone off as long as they have $5000. "Feel good" is not the phrase that springs immediately to mind. As social satire, though, it works very well, especially in the eye-popping court room drama scene whose song "Razzle Dazzle" isn't just an indictment of our legal system, but these days also of our political system.
But feel good or not, it is a good movie with great performances. On the minus side, Becky was distracted by the anachronistically buff/scrawny dancers, particularly Ms. Zellweger. The dancing by the principals was impressive, but part of what allowed it to be so impressive was the rapid-fire quick-cut editing throughout the film which was enough to repeatedly pull me out of the flow.
Verdict: 3 stars (out of 4)
I spent a lot of time last night trying to figure out what response I could make as someone who was against this war.
I still think this war is misguided. Before it started, I could hold out some hope that the weight of world public opinion might stop or delay military action. Now that we are committed, I can't conceive of the Bush administration ending these hostilities without having something they can call a victory.
So my hopes are now that the war will be resolved quickly with minimal casualties on either side.
My energies, I now direct towards reforming my government which has somehow come to believe that it is the final arbiter of where and when military force should be applied in the world.
The best statement I've been able to find so far is MoveOn.org's Citizen's Declaration which reads:
A CITIZENS' DECLARATION
As a US-led invasion of Iraq begins,we, the undersigned citizens of many countries, reaffirm our commitment to addressing international conflicts through the rule of law and the United Nations.
By joining together across countries and continents, we have emerged as a new force for peace. As we grieve for the victims of this war, we pledge to redouble our efforts to put an end to the Bush Administration's doctrine of pre-emptive attack and the reckless use of military power.
Follow the link above to add your name.
Last night's movie was Morte a Venezia. It's based on the novel of the same name by Thomas Mann about an exhausted composer who goes to Venice to recharge and becomes smitten by the ethereal beauty of a young boy. There is hardly any dialogue in the film, and most of what is there is discussion of the meaning of Art, Beauty, Genius, and Life. All of the action takes place against the backdrop of the beauty of Venice, but even it is not allowed to be unambiguously beautiful as we discover that the city is the latest to be afflicted by an outbreak of Asian Cholera. The corruption of the city by this epidemic, the corruption of the composer by his obsession with beauty, and the corruption of the world for demanding that Art and Beauty be synonymous are all interwoven in a movie that while completely devoid of anything resembling happiness or even pleasure, is still undeniably both beautiful and artistic. The music in the film is portions Mahler's 3rd and 5th symphonies and is as much a character in the film as the actors and the city of Venice.
We watched a pan-and-scan video tape. See it letterboxed if you possibly can.
Verdict: 3-1/2 stars (out of 4)
Very interesting article from Newsweek of all places about the place of America as the sole super power.
My friend Ann Thomas had an essay published today in the Seattle Times entitled A forest's lesson: Nurse log is like our family, ourselves
We went to a play (the Book-It! production of Dickens's Hard Times) at Seattle Center, and on our way out I snapped this shot of the Space Needle. If the lighting had been brighter you'd see the track of a roller coaster looping through the foreground.
Tonight's movie was Floundering, the story of John, a twentysomething having a slacker crisis. He starts off the movie without a job, and in the first part of the film we learn he's also experiencing 3am visitations of dread. The normal world isn't being real nice to him either. The IRS is after him for back taxes, his unemployment benefits were overpaid so now he owes them money, his girlfriend isn't big on monogamy, his brother has checked himself out of rehab. He's obsessed with watching taped copies of the television coverage of the LA riots, and tortured by all the problems he sees in the world. He doesn't do anything about the world's problems or his own. James LeGros does a creditable job with the material, but the fact that John's interior life (told in unending voice-over) bears many similarities to my own mental landscape doesn't make him any more likeable. Probably less.
The end of the movie has an upbeat twist (however unlikely) which helps salvage some of it, but the picture as a whole isn't a whole lot of fun to watch except for nice performances in some of the smaller parts including a fun scene with Billy Bob Thornton as a good old boy gun salesman, a navel gazing pot smoking pseudo-intellectual meander by John Cusack, and a fine performance by Maritza Rivera as John's girlfriend who knows what she wants.
Verdict: 2 stars (out of 4)
Watched Solaris the other night. This is the 1972 version directed by Andrei Tarkovsky. The film opens on simple pastoral scenes with no music or dialogue. Seeing it on this DVD, the visuals are exquisitely detailed and notable for looking like real locations. The colors are broadly varied, but all within normal natural hues. Everything seems a little muted, but I think it's only in contrast to the stuff I usually see in films which is exaggerated beyond what real natural landscapes look like. There's one shot in particular of an aquatic plant's leaves undulating in the current of the water in a stream that I could watch all day long, it's so beautiful.
The movie continues to be great looking even after the first couple of minutes when the dialogue and story start in. The talking (Russian with English subtitles for this monolingual watcher) is nearly as spare as the imagery at least in the beginning. It's not too clear what's going on. That's okay in the early parts when the things people say seem like things real people would really say, but when Kris Kelvin gets to the station above the planet Solaris, when the story is actually starting to unfold, the dialogue becomes like a strange philosophical subtext masquerading as conversation. Granted, the characters are all undergoing sanity-bending circumstances (immortal versions of people from the station-dwellers' pasts and imaginations appear and interact with the crew in often frightening and inscrutable ways), but even with that, it is hard to extract any practical meaning from what the characters say to each other.
And, okay, I get that this is partly the point, but I still expect my abstruse philosophical tracts to be good stories in addition to being mind-bending experiences. I need to go read the book.
Verdict: 2 stars (out of 4)
After all that soapboxing for the last few days, here's some plain old eye candy. This collection of photographs of snowflakes is the coolest I've seen since reading W. A. Bentley's Snow Crystals (and the page above provides a link to a web page about Bentley's work)
Here's a faith-based initiative I can get behind.
A group of US and UK church leaders have proposed an alternative plan with respect to Iraq. They have 6 points.
At least on its surface, this sounds like the sort of law-based and multi-national approach that could reasonably counter the unilateral and largely illegal plan of the Bush administration.
Over on Easily Distracted, Timothy Burke is having trouble sleeping. He says:
What grips me is the sense that an extraordinary compound mistake is about to be made, the kind that shifts the forward motion of history onto a new track. It is like being a passenger in a car driven too quickly and erratically by someone who won’t listen to anyone else in the car. Even when you want to get to the same destination as the driver, you can’t help but feel that there’s a way to go there which doesn’t carry the same risk of flying through the guardrails and off a cliff.
I am not a pacifist. I am not anti-American. I could support a military conflict with Iraq designed to remove Saddam Hussein from power.
I am convinced that George Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz and Richard Perle are exactly the wrong people at the right time to execute that mission. I am convinced that John Ashcroft is exactly the wrong man to be in charge of law, order and the security of American liberty at this time.
The rest of that post is worth reading, he's got a very calm, rational voice. And that's something I can't quite muster at the moment. The America that I love does not wage war preemptively. The America I love does not imprison suspects without due process. The America I love does not torture prisoners. The America I love does not suspend civil liberties in the name of fictional security.
Burke's mad taxi driver is an apt metaphor. I want to cover my eyes and stop watching, but in this taxi, it's the responsibility of the passengers to take over from the driver if he doesn't follow the rules of the road, so I feel I have to watch. Taking over the wheel is a little harder.
Lest we think that the insanity of the Bush administration began recently, the Wage Slave Journal has a Scorecard of Evil showing his record on significant issues back to the beginning of his reign.
Bible passages illustrated by various cheeses. Plus, bad puns. What's not to like?
(via Making Light)
Last night I watched the DVD of Titan A. E. I tried to talk Becky into watching it with me, but even with the voices of Matt Damon, Drew Barrymore, Bill Pullman, Jeneane Garofalo, and Nathan Lane, I was unsuccessful. "It's more space stuff", she says.
I'd seen it before on video, but it looks really great on DVD. This was the second animated feature from Fox Animation Studios after their extremely Disney-esque Anastasia. The basic story is that scary aliens come and blow up the Earth relegating humans to oppressed minority status in the universe. Their only hope is recovering the Titan project spaceship which escaped the destruction of Earth. Unfortunately, the only way to find it is with a map belonging (unbeknownst to him) to the son of its creator. Yeah, it's hip deep in sci-fi cliche (the Titan project in particular ends up being identical to the Genesis device in Star Trek's The Wrath of Khan), but there's a reason why all that stuff is cliche: it makes a good story. I remembered the movie as being like a bunch of animation set pieces loosely glued together with a glaze of plot, but it hangs together better than I remembered. The credits indicate that various passages were developed by different animation groups, so that may be what I was remembering. The soundtrack adds a lot with its punchy rock sound, but the dorky original score portions kept pulling me out of the movie.
The DVD has a director's commentary that I didn't watch, an interesting behind the scenes feature, a music video for the extremely dippy feature song "Over My Head" (this song has just _five_ words) by Lit, four deleted scenes, and trailers. All the usual stuff, basically. I got it from the library to see if I should add it to the collection, and I think I'll keep an eye out for a cheap copy.
Verdict: 2-1/2 stars (out of 4) for a fun rock music space epic with engaging voice talent and extreme animation eye candy.
No, not George W. This is George Sr. in a speech at Tufts University. Reported in the Times Online
The article says in part:
Drawing on his own experiences before and after the 1991 Gulf War, Mr Bush Sr said that the brief flowering of hope for Arab-Israeli relations a decade ago would never have happened if America had ignored the will of the United Nations.
Looking at some of the other reporting on the event, it appears that taking this statement alone and trying to turn it into evidence that Bush is a dove would be foolhardy.
In response to a group of loud protestors being removed from the lecture by police, Bush Sr. said "We've now found another real good reason to use duct tape.''
(Via Boing Boing)
You know those annoying movie trailers with the voiceover that goes "In a time of turmoil... A poor shopkeeper faces his biggest fears... To have the woman he loves..." or some rubbish like that?
Somebody wrote a program to generate new ones with random plot elements. It's the Action Film Trailer Generator and it just gave me this gem:
On a wicked world of illusion, a bartender and a librarian attempt to participate in the greatest fighting tournament of history.
Via Making Light. There's more similar stuff in the same post. Oh, and in the comment thread someone pointed to the Trailer for Comedian which is just hilarious. (Hey, when your blog is brand new you have to steal from wherever you can!)
I keep seeing signs that say "Support our troops".
At a time when we are not currently at war, I don't understand what people mean by these signs.
Are our troops bored and we need to start a war so they will have something to do?
I would think that the best way to support the troops would be to pursue every reasonable method of preventing a war from starting.
In what way would invading Iraq be supporting our troops?
John Ardussi and I spent a couple of hours this afternoon driving around Issaquah taking notes and pictures of existing Bike/Ped infrastructure. Here's the page with my writeup.
(click the FacilitySurveyMarch9th2003 link for today's insanity, or the links in the table farther down for some other stuff I did over the last couple of weeks)
This is Doctorow's first novel, and it's getting lots of buzz from the way that he and Tor Books have chosen to market it. Rather than making an excerpt available for download, the entire novel has been released as a freely redistributable e-book. Cory has a whole page about it.
The book is set in a post-scarcity future. What that means is that technology has developed to the point where physical resources are easily available in sufficient quantity that it is no longer economically feasible for people to profit from their sale. This has made our current concept of money meaningless. In its place has come an economy of status. For reasons which never became clear to me, this status currency is called "Whuffie".
The mechanics of Whuffie are never really explained, but they seem to be tied in to the fact that people have basically all gone cyborg by having small computers implanted in their bodies. This computerization allows ubiquitous communication, extraction of the status information that makes Whuffie work, and, most importantly for Doctorow's plot, backup and restore of human minds. Near the beginning of the book, the main character is murdered. And restored from backup. The rest of the book is part murder mystery, and part engineering adventure.
The engineering adventure comes in because the main character is part of an adhoc which runs Disney World. In post-scarcity society (called bitchun society, again for reasons that elude me), large corporations don't run things, instead groups of people who care spend their time and energy supporting activities that are important to them. If the existing group starts slacking off, a new group with energy and bright ideas will come along and take over. The main character in the book finds himself in the midst of such a takeover.
Doctorow has imagined a fascinating future society and has woven an interesting story around it.
I've been working with some other Issaquah residents on a project to see to it that the new Non-Motorized Transportation element to be added to our city's comprehensive plan will include the stuff that we think it should include.
A lot of the work involved in doing that is determining what we think it should include.
To facilitate the process, I set up a TWiki on TomeCat to allow us to collect all of the information we're sifting through.
If you haven't worked in a Wiki before, the best demonstration I've found of the potential of the form is the Wikipedia, a project to write an encyclopedia from scratch with all volunteer contributors.
de Lint's Newford stories are almost a genre in themselves. Set in and around the fictional city of Newford, they depict the interaction of magic with the "real" world. And they don't stick just to the kinds of magic you've heard of, but stray into lots of other cultural traditions, showing their mysteries alive in modern North America. It's great escape literature for people who wish that the mystical and mythical played a larger, more visible part in our lives. But these stories are not just escapist, but show characters with real-world problems dealing with them in constructive ways. While the magic that contributes to their lives is unreal to those of us who don't live in Newford, you can't help but be a little more receptive to the more mundane magics that we become immune to in our lives. Magics like human kindness and natural beauty are around us every day, and de Lint's writing makes me more aware of them.
I started taking pictures with this cheesy little camera in 2002. You can see all the pictures I took that year (at least all the ones worth enough to push them to the web) at my old daily photo page.