Monday, December 31, 2007

Happy New Year!


... and a quick run-down of 2007...

~ Best movie - Charlie Wilson's War.

~ Most disappointing movie - I am Legend.

~ Best graphic novel (series) - Fables.

~ Best graphic novel (one-shot) - The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: The Black Dossier.*

~ Best new game - Bioshock.*

* Thanks, Dan!

~ Best book (fiction) - The Terror, Dan Simmons

~ Best book (nonfiction) - Tie: Chasing the Rising Sun, Ted Anthony and Where Dead Voices Gather, Nick Tosches.

~ Best new podcast - (tie) The 10th Wonder (Heroes) and Down in the Flood (music history)

~ Most missed podcast - PokerDiagram.

~ Best new blog - No winner.

~ Most missed blog - Scott McCloud's The Morning Improv.

~ Best new discovery - Torchwood.

~ Best rediscovery - Dr. Who.

~ Best new techno toy - iPod Touch (Thanks, Peggy!)

~ Best music - Dylan's iPod.

~ Best out-and-abouts in 2007 - Sea Pups, Portland, Maine; Fisher Cats, Manchester, NH; Ultimate Championships, Columbus Ohio; Lopstick Lodge and Cabins, Pittsburg, NH; Bob Dylan, Manchester, NH, October 5, 2007.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Merry Xmas to All and See You in 2008

Winter hiatus time, folks. See you in the New Year. Christmas card via my buddy, Brenda Starr.

Update: A Grinch apparently ate the card, but a Happy Holiday to all nonetheless!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

The History of the U.S./Saudi Relationship in 4 Minutes



The opening sequence of The Kingdom. Like any summary, it skips over and conflates numerous facts and events, but still an excellent visual representation of why we're in Iraq... and why we're in trouble.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Happy (I Think) Birthday, Me



I won't grow up!
I will never grow a day
And if someone tries to make me
I will simply run away.






I won't grow up!
No, I promise that I won't
I will stay a boy forever
Just see if I don't!

I'll never grow up,
Never grow up,
Never grow up
Not me!
No sir!
Not me!

- after I Won't Grow Up, from the musical, Peter Pan

Monday, December 17, 2007

Happy (I Think) Birthday, Blogs

Today, December 17th, is generally accepted as the "birth" of the term weblog, and in fact is the 10th anniversary of Robot Wisdom, Jorn Barger's blog, where he first used the term to describe his "logging the Web" as he surfed it.

Barger is a strange, and with his tendency towards anti-Semitic cant a not particularly likable, character making him the perfect Father of the Blogosphere. If you go to Robot Wisdom - a link I'm not providing, as it's masthead flies an example of the aforesaid cant, you'll find it not more than links to other content on the Web, without commentary, which is Barger's ideal of what a blog should be, which is not mine, and probably not yours.

As with about most things in the world, except maybe kittens, I have mixed feelings about blogs. Blogging has sometimes carried me through very rocky periods in my life. But, I also tend toward Leo LaPorte's only semi-tongue-in-cheek observation that most blogs and podcasts, "are a desperate bid for attention," which pretty accurately describes both fhb and Dreamtime.

Of late - and I mean the past few months - I seldom read blogs anymore, usually only going to one when I need a specific piece of information or want an update on that person. I leave the weblog list up mostly as a matter of convenience for that purpose. And certainly I don't blog in fhb as much as I did. Part of that is the semi-regular schedule of Dreamtime. Writing Dreamtime articles pretty well satisfies my writing Jones. As one of the things I get weary of reading is the periodic "I'm gonna stop blogging, goodbye cruel world!" that all bloggers seem to occasionally post, I've resisted writing one, and expect to putter along with fhb for the indeterminate future.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Marilyn and Me


Peggy and I have kind of a three-sided family tree -we have my family; her family; and then a larger group of "family," that includes some intermarriage and blood relationships and some longtime friends who are family too as far as we're concerned. Peggy introduced her friend Bonnie to her husband, Dave, who in turn is the brother of Peg's sister-in-law. Bonnie introduced Peggy to me, and so on.

We have cousins and nieces and nephews and now grand-nieces and nephews who are all part of our extended family, some actual relatives, others not... but we're Uncle Fred and Aunt Peggy to all anyway.

The larger family celebrates group birthdays on a regular basis. The photo at your left was taken during the November birthday bash, and presented to me yesterday at the December party, the group I belong to. Back in November, one of the birthday boys - not me - was celebrating a milestone 60th, and his brothers, sisters, and nieces decided to bring in a Marilyn Monroe like-a-look to sing him "Happy Birthday," which she did in all cute breathlessness. She was a good sport, which I imagine you have to be in that sort of biz; and in the course of her act, posed for the ladies' cameras with various of the men.

Including, as you can see, the guy with the goofy look who could afford to lose some weight.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Heroes and Villains

You'll note a new widget over in the right-hand column, a link supporting the striking Writers Guild of America, the people who script much of the television and film we watch in the U.S.

In essence, the guild is striking against the six media conglomerates who essentially control American media - the usual suspects: GE (who own Universal and NBC); Disney; Time-Warner, Viacom, CBS, and News Corp., which owns Fox.

What the writers want is their fair share of the monies coming from digital distribution of their work: 2.5 cents for each dollar the media conglomerates (who are known under the collective acronym of the AMPTP) make from digital re-use of a TV show or film. Media writers make a lot of their bread from re-use. In their land it's called "residuals." In the print world it's called "royalties." Dependent on who you are and what you write, you get a small to middlin' to large piece of cash up front, and then an income stream from your work that is usually the difference between making a living from your writing or having a not-very-profitable hobby.

It's worth noting at this point that the writers want a piece of the pie. If there's no pie, they don't eat either. The AMPTP claims there is no pie, at least at this point in time.

But, if that's so, why are they fighting against the idea so hard? Why not just give the writers 2.5 percent of zip?

The WGA claims that the members of the AMPTP are lying, since the various organizations are telling their stockholders that they're already making money - big money - from digital downloads, and expect to make pots more. As the WGA FAQ succinctly states, "...lying to shareholders is a federal crime. So we assume they’re lying to us."

As of December 4th, it appeared that there was at least negotiation is progress, but from all reports the issue is far from resolution. If the strike isn't settled by Christmas, you can kiss most of your favorite television series goodbye for most - if not all - of 2008. Most people have no idea how massive a machine television (or film) production companies are. Starting - or restarting - the machine up takes a lot of time, months of time.

So, probably no 24 at all. The last new episode of Heroes was Monday, and all I can do is cross my fingers that I'll see Season 3 before next August. And while I'm on the subject of Heroes, my inner geek wants to know (spoilers coming so don't read if you haven't watched Powerless yet):

  1. As "Adam" quite correctly pointed out, why did the Company keep a potentially world-ending virus on hand rather than simply destroying it (especially since they know they have an invulnerable immortal with lots of time hell-bent on retrieving it)

  2. Maybe they were already thinking about the strike, but couldn't the writers have come up with one line explaining why Peter simply didn't phase through the Vault ("My God, they somehow laid their hands on neutronium!") or teleport in?

  3. We've had sticks and glass shards stuck into the head. Ol' HRG took a bullet in the head and was revived thanks to Clare's blood. Now we're told by Peter's Mom that a bullet in/through the head would stop Adam or Peter? I don't think so. I like the original Highlander Rules - take the head off - better.

  4. Maybe Adam mellowed after 400 years, but one would think he'd have more than a mild "Oh, look who it is" reaction finding his arch-enemy prostrate before him.

  5. Maybe Hiro was having a bad day, but one would think someone with the power to bend Time & Space could come up with a better solution to the problem of an invulnerable immortal than burying him alive. At some point in the future, he's going to be dealing with a crazy invulnerable immortal.

  6. Did anyone else do a mental cheer when Maya was shot, and then went, "Oh, No!" when she was revived? And does Maya have like the world's stupidest superpower or what? Or does now, at least, as her brother's superpower was even stupider.

  7. So okay, Peter, you've never seemed to be the brightest bulb on the planet, powers notwithstanding, but did it ever occur to you to wonder exactly what was going to happen to Caitlin stuck in a future that doesn't exist anymore?

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Gonzo

I don't usually write negative reviews of books: Life is too short, and I'd rather write about something I liked.

But on some occasions the work has bothered me so much I feel compelled to mention it. Gonzo, an "oral biography" of Hunter S. Thompson by Jann Wenner and Corey Seymour is one of those books.

Long-time readers of fhb know that I have mixed feelings about HST. I kind of outgrew the whole gonzo thing by the time I reached my 30s. Stories about gobbling vast quantities of drugs, drinking oceans of booze, and terrifying a straight populace tend to lose charm as we get older... or even - dare I say it - grow up. Engaging drunks are still drunks in the cold light of morning, intriguing outlaw druggies are still druggies, and stories about flooding hotel rooms or destroying restaurants aren't very funny to those people who have to clean up the mess. And that's one of the things you learn if you're unfortunate enough to be in the circle of an alcoholic or druggie. Somebody else is always expected to clean up the mess.

Thompson wrote one excellent book, Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, and two pretty-good books, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail `72 and Hell's Angels, and that was about that. By the `80s, his career was pretty much over from a writing perspective, although he'd recycle old stuff, flail together bits and pieces of stuff that didn't quite work, and market every scrap of paper he could find for the next 20-odd years. By that time he was living mostly on the outsize gonzo legend he had created, and, as far as you can tell from Gonzo, was one miserable man who made the lives of family, friends and acquaintances a living hell.

It's one of the strange things about Gonzo, that few of the people interviewed have much good to say about HST, and, even when they do, tend to qualify it... "Hunter could be a sweet man, when he wasn't throwing a temper tantrum or breaking light bulbs over a restaurant table..."

One of the interviewees, Ed Bradley, I think, who had a peculiar fondness for Thompson, although one can't discern why, notes that being someone who liked hanging with HST was somewhat akin to being a cult member. It's an appropriate analogy. From the outside you can't imagine what the attraction could have been, at least not from the stories told in Gonzo.

Those stories just get sadder and sadder as the book heads for the inevitable conclusion. Thompson attempts to cover the Ali/Foreman match in Zaire and finds he's outclassed by a slew of much more heavyweight boxing writers, including Norman Mailer. An unwilling Thompson tries to do the Hemingway thing and cover the fall of Saigon, and facing the real gonzo craziness of Vietnam runs, at first opportunity, to the safety of Manila - spending the rest of his life spouting the lie that Jann Wenner had canceled his life insurance.

Wifes are beaten, children are ignored. Assistants are treated like slaves. Hotel rooms are trashed. Innocent people are subjected to venomous invective only because they had the misfortune to cross Thompson's path. By the end, we have an image of HST on the floor in front of his refrigerator, throwing a temper tantrum like a two-year-old because he's dropped a jar and wants someone to come and pick it up for him.

Seriously.

I wrote back in 2005, "...One of the ironic things about Thompson's early books, better recognized when they were first published, and increasingly lost as the gonzo message was celebrated by later generations, was the thread of despair that ran through them..."

Almost all of Gonzo reflects that despair. Whether one good book was worth it, I can't answer.

The Perfect Chocolate Chip Cookie



Whether this actually is the perfect chocolate chip cookie, I don't know. If I can get Peggy to make up a batch, I'll report.