Equal Rites

by Terry Pratchett

Equal Rites I got to talking about Pratchett with one of my students last week, and since I he came up earlier this year here on Digital Sextant, I thought I’d read the next in the Discworld series. I thought Equal Rites was good, enjoyable, a quick read, but not Earth shattering.  I enjoyed the divisions made between witch- and wizard-craft.

By the third book, Pratchett has settled into the world in such a way that there’s a lot less establishing going on.  He doesn’t have to spend much time reminding us what the world’s like or explaining things in detail.  He throws out lots of clever twists on conventional fantasy ideas, of course, but he doesn’t have to make the case for his world, as he seemed to in the previous books.

It’s amusing to put this book next to the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card. The main character in this book was to be the eighth son of an eighth son (except, OOPS!, she was a daughter), just as the main character in Card’s books is the seventh son of a seventh son.  Both Alvin and Esk are destined to become important, both must deal with tremendous power at a young age, and both have a protective guide (Alvin has his guardian “angel” character, Esk has her mage staff).  But where Card’s narrative veers further away from real-life with each successive book (leaping and bounding toward a thinly veiled Mormon utopianism), Pratchett’s books work like clever anecdotes, ultimately reflecting back on our own situation.

Overheard today

“Drinking kills brain cells, so you shouldn’t do it.  Why not just enjoy a nice game of Scrabble? No, Boggle.”

“Not conscience, you mean to write consciousConscience is Jimminy Crickett.”

In Cold Blood

by Truman Capote

Other than the fact that this book has a long and well-renowned history, I knew nothing about it. As expected, it’s brilliantly written, giving a sense of the murderers without making them overly sympathetic, giving emotional, moving descriptions of the murdered family and the effect the Clutter family killing had on Kansas and Kansans in general.

Capote’s language and descriptions work brilliantly. I’m particularly interested in the troublesome place of the creative non-fiction writer as it comes to documenting events one wasn’t involved in. While there’s a long history of describing, post facto, one’s own emotions, the idea of documenting another’s emotions challenges even the best writers. Erik Larsen, my favorite such writer, describes the tightrope walk nicely in the footnotes at the end of Isaac’s Storm and The Devil in the White City. Alternately, Sebastian Junger used parallel stories to approximate experiences in The Perfect Storm.

(“read” as an audiobook)

It’ll be a cold day in hell when Harry Flugelman lets an actor tell *him* what to do!

I’ll need to watch it again later to be sure — Christopher Guest’s movies acquire comedy in later screenings — but having now seen For Your Consideration, I hereby dub it disappointing.  Some thoughts:

  • Same plot as Waiting For Guffman, only about a bunch of low-level movie people instead of low-level theater people.
  • Too goofy for its dramatic moments, not goofy enough to be truly funny.
  • Failed to live up to the promising avenue opened by A Mighty Wind, namely the space for a dramatic-comedy mockumentary rather than a straight-up comedy as in Best in Show or Waiting for Guffman.

I think the film’s biggest flaw was the missing moments of dialogue.  Whereas the previous films have had built-in dialogue through the “talking heads” sequences, this film did not give the actors space to spin out their hilarious monologues that are the heart of these films.  In particular, the second half gives almost no space for such humor, relying much more on cheap gags like Catherine O’Hara in botox’d getup.

Would that the filmmakers had remembered Joe Montagna’s monologue in Three Amigos:

…And then came Those Darn Amigos.  Nobody went to see it because nobody cares about three wealthy Spanish landowners on a weekend in Manhattan.  We strayed from the formula, and we paid the price.

Always makes me smile

The Streets

The British hip-hop “group,” The Streets, has an album-length narrative called A Grand Don’t Come for Free that I really like (the lead singer has a strong London working class accent, and uses words like “spliff”). But if I’m ever in a bad mood, I can just listen to the denoument of the story, “Empty Cans.” About halfway through the song, the tone moves and the song enters a pleasant key, and the story takes a happy turn. It always makes me smile.

Studio One: There Was a Crooked Man

This mystery, an episode of the Westinghouse show Studio One, featured a mundane murder mystery in a house. There were a few interesting moments, mostly due to the rascally owner of the lodging house, who borrows his tenants close and puts on airs about belonging to a club. The really charming bits, though, came in the advertisements, which were left in the movie.

Worth my thirty-eight cents:
The first in-show commercial featured a ‘large-screen’ Westinghouse television. It looked to be about 9″. They didn’t say the price in the commercial, but they said you could get it on a payment plan, and that you’d get a good trade-in deal on your old TV.

For those of you who play counter-strike

If you play counter-strike, you’ll find this funny.

If you don’t play counter-strike, this video won’t mean much, but I’ll endeavor to explain it.

1. If you listen carefully before I throw my flash grenade (or “flashbang”), you can hear footsteps coming down the hall.

2. The grenade I threw blinds and deafens your opponent, but only does 1hp (out of the usual 100 per person) damage to them, and only then if it *hits* them instead of landing in front of them.

3. You can see that I got a kill with the flashbang because the icon for it appears in the upper right corner of the screen.

4. Since I was on a good run at a time, the server shouts “Dominating!”

5. Flashbang kills are extremely rare, hence the conversation after the fact.

The psychological effect of intense gaming

So last night, during a short break from my work session, I was playing Counter-Strike on cs_militia, which is a map featuring a wooden farmhouse with both upstairs and downstairs levels. When people are running around on the roof or upstairs, they make thump-thump noises that the game reproduces pretty well in headphones.

Another teammate and I were downstairs, guarding our objective, when I heard an opponent enter the house somewhat stealthily above me. I used voice chat to tell my teammate that our opponent was upstairs and he whispered back to me, “okay”.

I mention this because the game does not reproduce, in any way, the volume or timbre of the player’s voices. In other words, I can shout in my microphone to teammates, and my opponents will not hear any sound. Yet this teammate, caught up in the act of trying to be sneaky, whispered to me as though it mattered.

While I’m certainly not one to attribute actions or misdeeds to media influences, this kind of experience reinforces, for me, just how completely immersive such games can be.

Classic!

As you remember, I used to blog my mp3 progress as I worked my way through my music collection. Herein, I start that process again.

This week, I’m ripping cds from my “classical” folder.

  • Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos 4,5,6,9 (from “Classic Gold”)
  • Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos 1-5 (from “Editions De L’Oiseau-Lyre”)
  • Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto 6 (from “Editions De L’Oiseau-Lyre”)
  • Mozart The Marriage of Figaro and others (From “Vienna Masterworks”)

And here’s my current shuffle:

Shuffle small
(Click to view at full size)

Dolly Parton rules

I just heard, on The Current, Dolly Parton’s cover of “Shine” by Collective Soul. That rocks. (I’ve written about The Current before.)

British TV – how do you do it?

I love British TV.  When a show is destined to end its run fairly quickly (say, in 10 or 12 episodes), the writers can give the story real arcs.  They can kill characters off and can have the plots take significant turns, since they don’t need to maintain the initial state of the system to perpetuate the story.

For example (spoilers ahead), Jenny and I just finished watching the second series of Hamish Macbeth from BBC Scotland.  The final three episodes included the death of one of the main characters (in a really lame accident), a woman stuck standing on a landmine, and a man burned alive in a crematorium.  The series ended with Lachie Jr. leaving home (to become an undertaker, if you believe it) and his father walking up the steps to the Lachie’s room, sobbing.  Nice end there.

The Interwebs tell me that series three exists, but hasn’t been released on DVD in the US yet. Sigh.

The Bounty: The True Story of the Mutiny on the Bounty

by Caroline Alexander

Captain BlyI thoroughly enjoyed this book, despite its length. Going in, I knew hardly anything about it, except that Captain Bly was a total jerk. Alexander uses exhaustive archival research to show that, no, he wasn’t a jerk. The image of the tyrannical Captain Bly and the soulful, oppressed Fletcher Christian was apparently generated after the fact by Christian’s family and the one surviving gentlemanly mutineer, Peter Haywood. Alexander clearly sides with Bly, and the reader can’t help but do the same.

As someone who instinctively follows the rules and rages inside when others don’t, I empathize with Bly’s respect for duty, and the backhanded means Christian’s family used to besmirch Bly had me shaking my fists at the heavens. The tremendous hardships endured by Bly and one of Bly’s men who lived through both ordeals (aboard the lifeboat from The Bounty and the shipwreck of the Pandora) are hardly imaginable.

I’m also intrigued by the matter-of-fact nature of life at sea and its hardships, particularly when these hardships became grievances on land. Lubbers who had no sense of the sea came to see Bly’s quite normal behavior as tyrannical. Most telling in this context are the contrasting perspectives of the cononut incident, which occurred just before the mutiny.

Bly had given orders that a stock of coconuts, stored on deck, should not be touched until they were at sea, at which time they would be divided up evenly. When Christian was on watch, nearly all the coconuts were stolen or eaten, Christian helping himself to one or two. When confronted, he said “I was thirsty.”

The civilians hearing this story saw Bly’s vicious, angry reaction to this theft as an overreaction–the straw that broke Christian’s back, so to speak. Sailors, on the other hand, were most shocked that direct orders and shipboard theft would be treated so lightly. The gulf between these perspectives fascinates me.

(Read as an audiobook)

CTD asks…

How does a duck know what direction South is?
and how to tell his wife from all the other ducks?

Everything Is Illuminated

Everything Is Illuminated

I enjoyed this film.  The languid film style and the beautiful backgrounds compliment the story nicely.  The more striking images work well here, and Elijah Wood’s blank stare and goggly-eyes make the more dreamy images stand out more strongly.  Both funny and sad, the kind of movie that makes me feel edified for having watched it.

Three years’ worth of movies

About a year ago, I wrote:

The ease with which you can click “ADD” leads to travesties like this. My personal queue (does not include Jenny’s movies or our Joint queue) is now unbelievably long. The chances that I’ll get to see Jackie Brown: Collector’s edition, the current bottom-of-the-queue movie, in 2006 are so slim as to be laughable

I can’t believe how silly I was. My queue was 64 movies long at that point. Here’s a current screenshot:

queue07.png

I still haven’t seen Jackie Brown. It’s now at position 74. Even at the aggressive pace of three discs every two weeks (keep in mind, this is just *my* queue–I share another queue with jenny that has an additional 27 movies on it) it will take me two and a half years to get through this queue. And that’s if I don’t add any more movies.

Sometime around October of 2009 I should be watching The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill. I can’t wait.