Monthly Archives: September 2011

A different kind of week

As I mentioned Monday, my week got off to a very slow start. Then it went in directions I didn’t anticipate (trust me, that’s not as exciting as it sounds).
After working on Mage’s Masquerade Monday and Tuesday, I went to the writer’s group Tuesday night and read Kernel of Truth. To my pleasant surprise, they liked it a lot——some minor corrections, but nothing compared to what I’d expected. So I should have it out and in circulation next month.
Wednesday, reflecting that the next project I want to show them is The Impossible Takes a Little Longer, I decided to use my writing time and work on a couple of chapters. Having had very little sleep (out to eat after group!), I started in the morning, figuring I’d save the eHows until my head was clearer. But it was going so well, I decided what the heck, I’ll just spend the entire day working on the book.
And so I did. There’s a couple of chapters I want to go over once more, but I think it’s ready for show. I’ll probably do what one of my fellow members did: Read the first chapter, then see who’d like to read the rest of it and meet to discuss it.
That used up my fiction time for the week, and threw me even more behind on my eHows. But I’m well ahead of budget his month (though about $15 short of where I need to be for one of my 101 in 1,001 goals), so I can afford that.
To compensate a little, I spent today working entirely on eHows. Since business/money titles are still in the doldrums, I focused on tech articles, which slowed me down some, but I’m quite pleased at having finished seven of them. Okay, eight would have been better, but several turned out to be not as easy as I thought. Plus it’s harder to find authoritative resources, since Google turns up tons of IT forums and wikis and those aren’t authoritative enough.
The eHows that I did get done:
•Can I Draw From a 401k for a Home Purchase Without Being Penalized With Taxes?
•What Liabilities Can Accrue When a Company Relocates Its Operations?
•Accounting Rules for Franchisors
•Requirements for a Binding Promissory Note South Carolina Law
•How to Make Partnership Contracts on Know How vs. Capital
•The Disadvantages of Income Statement Formats
•Do You Need a Seller’s Permit to Open a Restaurant?
•Do I Need to Have Itemized Receipts for a Sales Tax Audit?
•What Happens if You Are on a Title but Not on a Loan & the Person Dies?
•Can a Person File Bankruptcy Over a Recognizance Bond?
•What Happens to Employees in a Leveraged Buyout?
•Do You Need to File a Final Company Return Before Dissolving?
•What Is Advertising in Managerial Accounting?
•Laws About Ambiguous Advertising
•What Is the Relationship Between a General Ledger and Cash Flow?
•The Tax Treatment of Loss Contingency
•Taxation of Persons Under an E-2 Visa
•How to Report the Personal Property of a Sole Proprietorship Vs. an Owner
•Do You Have to Refile a Homestead Deduction When Refinancing?
And that was my week.

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Filed under Impossible Takes a Little Longer, Nonfiction, Short Stories, Time management and goals, Writing

Links that make me want to bitch-slap someone

I mentioned writer Mark Regnerus back when I started my Undead Sexist Cliché series. He’s the guy who argues that it’s a net loss for women when they can support themselves because now that they’re not trading sex for marriage and financial security, men won’t marry them.
The New York Post cites him as an expert in a column grumbling that women are now Giving It Away, and this is a terrible mistake: Instead of women controlling the sexual economy and demanding marriage or gifts, now men can get sex any time they like. And women who want to trade sex for marriage can’t win because the other women are Giving It Away and undercutting their price (“So, what can women do to return the balance of sexual power in their favor? Stop putting out, experts say. If women collectively decided to cross their legs, the price of sex would soar and women would regain control of the market.”).
The key to this argument is the whole “giving it away” part: Men get sex for next to nothing while women get … well, sex, right? So it’s a fair exchange? Nuh-uh: Women don’t want sex, or at least not as much as the men do (Pandagon dissects this here), so no woman having sex early in relationships or hooking up actually wants to do it. They’re just doing it in a sad, futile attempt to hang on to a man, which is pointless, because he can always shop somewhere else.
I’m sure some women are indeed having sex to try and hold a guy, but I also know a lot of women (though not in a Biblical sense) who actually do like sex. The assumption that sex is something women have and men should pay for (or trick them out of) is deeply woven into our society’s concept of how it works. And apparently the Post doesn’t think it’s a bad system.
•Echidne of the Snakes reviews a book on single-sex education. The idea boys and girls must have totally different education is one she’s ripped into in the past (one of my favorites: Girls should learn math by counting flower petals) on her own blog.
I’ve got to say, the kind of programs discussed here would have been hell for me back in high-school. Computer classes only for boys? Drama only for girls (HUH? When has theater ever been an all-female endeavor?)? Essays for boys on where they like to hunt? No thank you.
•If you hear that the EPA wants to triple its budget to fight global warning, it’s a lie.
•Speaking of lies, Wayne LaPierre of the NRA insists that even though Obama hasn’t taken away people’s guns and resisted renewing the Clinton-era assault-weapons ban, “it’s all part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and destroy the 2nd Amendment in our country.” Evidence? LaPierre don’t need no stinking evidence!
•I’m used to Republicans justifying things by claiming they’re creating jobs (or opposing things as “job killers.”). Here, SC Governor Nikki Haley proposes (last year) wiping out her state’s sales-tax exemption on food because it doesn’t create jobs, while slashing corporate taxes (which I gather cutting the exemption will pay for) will.
If I’d paid sales tax on food when I lived in Florida, my annual payments would have equaled three weeks’ food budget. But hey, if people aren’t job-creating CEOs, what right have they to afford eating?

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Filed under Politics, Undead sexist cliches

Speaking of DC’s reboot

I haven’t had a chance to read all the DC post-reboot books, so I can’t make an overall assessment. Certainly some are supposed to be excellent (Animal Man) and some sound quite intriguing (Demon Knights). The three I’ve managed to find so far … not so much.
Batgirl is definitely the best of the bunch, light, lively, and fun. But whoever at DC decided that putting Barbara Gordon back in tights after years as super-hacker Oracle would be an improvement was nuts. It’s entertaining but no different from any other non-super powered crimefighter.
It also shows the curious hamfisted way DC is rebooting itself. The only information we get about Barbara’s past is that she used to be Batgirl, got crippled by the Joker and now walks again thanks to “a miracle.” If writer Gail Simone wanted to fill in backstory for new readers, that doesn’t tell them much (nothing about how she put on the suit in the first place) and as an old hand, I’m baffled: What was the miracle? Did she ever have an Oracle identity (I’m guessing not——as one reviewer pointed out, she’d be making a very successful living in IT but she appears to be in the same financial boat as most 20-somethings)? And why exactly is The Killing Joke so important that it has to be retained in continuity (don’t get me wrong, I like the story, but not more than many stories that got wiped from reality).
Justice League International is just generic: The UN decides it needs a team of super-heroes, and that they shouldn’t have secret identities so people know who’s protecting them (I doubt it’s coincidence that most of the lineup resembles Keith Giffen’s nitwit post-Crisis version of the JLA [ugh, how I hated that thing!]). This would have been a real grabber 30 years ago, but since the Crisis, we’ve had Justice League Europe, Justice League International, Extreme Justice and even the core JLA has assembled and disassembled a couple of times. There’s nothing about this book (including the assertion the backers have a hidden agenda) that couldn’t have been done without a reboot (contrary to some optimistic predictions rebooting would spur a wave of innovative series).
Green Arrow reads as if they’re desperately hoping to reel in the Smallville audience by presenting GA as a millionaire philanthropist backed up by a female computer whiz. The result, unfortunately, is to make him look like a Batman knockoff. Which of course, is what he was for years (Speedy for Robin, Arrowcar for Batmobile, Arrowplane for Batplane etc.) but even given the fondness at DC for wiping out any changes of the past 30 years, I can’t imagine anyone’s nostalgic for that days. The bearded, snarky radical leftist was a lot more fun and distinctive (I think Ollie busting firms illegally foreclosing on people’s homes would be a natural current events hook)——even without the Batman resemblance, this version of Ollie is pretty generic.
I’ll mention more if I find them.

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Undead sexist cliche: She’s sexually liberated (and other misperceptions)

A post on Comics Alliance rips into DC’s reboot for its handling of Starfire (reinvented as an ET who craves emotion-free sex, then literally forgets about it), Catwoman and Voodoo (an ET/stripper——apparently her new book places a lot of visual emphasis on the stripping). The article argues this isn’t about sexually independent heroines as much as sex fantasies for male readers (note: I haven’t read the books, though the post excerpts enough panels I’m quite convinced the author has a point).
This is a familiar problem not confined to comics. Poul Anderson once said that in writing The Avatar, he deliberately gave his female lead an active sex life akin to his sexually active male heroes, and that this was just a minor feature of the book; instead it’s the one almost all his readers focused on.
Having read the book it’s easy to see why. Caitlin comes off as a teenage fantasy woman, someone who’s eager to sleep with you (she spends time with all of her shipmates) and is not only beautiful and good in bed but solves all their personal problems.
I’m not sure there’s a hard and fast line between sexually independent and sex fantasy, but it definitely exists. Starfire back before the reboot was certainly stunningly beautiful and scantily clad but she was also warm, passionate and competent——and while sexually active, certainly not available as she appears to be in Red Hood and the Outlaws. Catwoman’s had sex with Batman pre-reboot, but the descriptions I’ve heard of Catwoman #1 (and the panels I’ve seen) feel very different.
It can be done. Peter O’Donnell’s Modesty Blaise is sexually active but while impressively sexy, she doesn’t come across as a sexual fantasy for male readers: She’s very tough, very competent, fully in charge and well … obviously has a life with goals other than satisfying someone’s sexual fantasy (I’ve thought about this before and I honestly don’t know why she works as well as she does [note: As a male, I have no idea if female readers see any of this the same way]).
At the other extreme, we have the sexy heart-of-gold hooker who still keeps turning up in crime thrillers. The hooker in these situations is sexually available (obviously) but she’s not at all independent: The guy is paying her so she does whatever he wants … but often she ends up really, really liking him so she’d be happy to do him for free.
Part of the Independent Sex Fantasy image is just the general sexism that pervades so much of our culture, both the sexploitative portrayal of women and the routine discomfort with women’s sexual independence (Phyliss Schaffly once explained that an unchaste woman has only herself to blame for sexual harassment, as other men naturally resent the fact she’s not sleeping with them too; Camille Paglia blamed the Virginia Tech shooting of a few years ago on the shooter’s frustration none of those promiscuous girls at school would sleep with him).
Part of it, I think, is a matter of how writers conceive their audience. If you start from the assumption you’re writing for teenage and twentysomething guys almost exclusively, that may make a difference to how you write your characters. This can be conscious, it can just be a default setting based on everyone else writing the same way.
It also depends on what you think women are like. If you assume sexy women really are all promiscuous and indiscriminate, or that women can be divided into sluts and good girls with totally different desires, or that sexually active women are attracted to creeps, you’ll probably write them that way.
Admittedly many of us have preconceptions that screw us up when we write, but this is such a widespred cliché to start with, I think it’s an easy trap to fall into.

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Filed under Comics, Movies, Reading, TV, Undead sexist cliches

The first 1,001 days

My original 101 goals in 1,001 days project expires today. It’s the 1,001st day since starting the project back in 2009.
For those who don’t know, the idea is that rather than setting a New Year’s Resolution, you draw up a list of 101 goals to accomplish in the stated time frame. I tried it back in 2009, and I liked it; I talk about my 2011 goal list here.
If this were a school project, I have to admit I flunked: 68 percent of 113 goals (I tried adding 12 in 2010 rather than a whole new list) or 65 percent of the original 101. But it’s not a school project, and frankly, I’m pretty pleased.
The stuff I completed includes a lot of TYG-related items: Move up to Durham; adjust from a long-distance relationship to living together (that one was surprisingly easy); marry TYG; take part in the wedding planning (I found the officiant, the site and the caterer and photographer so I think I’m entitled to mark that off); dance a slow dance with her; and introduce her to family and friends (at the time I started this list, the only kinfolk she’d met was my father). Plus one or two more personal goals I won’t go into detail about.
A number of the goals were to refocus me on things I seemed to have stopped doing. Bake bread once a month; cook 100 new recipes; read 250 books (I’d really slowed down on my reading in 2008 as my time got crunched); walk on the beach 10 times; transfer over all my off-the-air videotapes to DVD; and read through all my photo albums. There were also little things such as trying a fresh coconut (not such a good idea), renewing my CPR certification and finishing my complete H.P. Lovecraft one-volume set.
The writing goals I accomplished include finishing Leave the World to Darkness, And He Bought a Crooked Cat, No Good Deed Goes Unpunished and The Glory That Was. I wrote 15 short stories, completed the Applied Science series for Big Pulp and saw Sword of Darcy published. I also joined a writing group and made one of my two goals for having saved a certain amount of writing money (the lower of the two goals, of course). Plus I wrote Screen Enemies of the American Way.
What didn’t I get done? I didn’t sell or finish a novel. I didn’t finish any of five other short stories I also had on the to-do list. We didn’t make it to my reunion, or to Europe, nor have I found time to go somewhere and see a sky free of light pollution (I did once, and it is an awesome thing). I haven’t done much volunteering, nor did I donate as much to charity as I anticipated (the donation goals in my current plan are more scaled down and practical). The stuff I planned to sell on eBay wound up left behind in the move. I haven’t bought a pair of really good walking shoes yet, and I only made partial progress on organizing and purging the photos on my computer.
Some of these have carried over into the current plan. Some are just gone (the eBay entry).
On the whole, I’m pleased. More pleased now that I’ve looked over all the items I ticked off: I’ve been conscious of the unattained writing goals, but didn’t realize how many I had accomplished. And it was a wildly ambitious list——I never expected to write them all, though I did think I’d have finished Brain From Outer Space by now.
I’m not sure if this review tells me anything about achieving more in future lists. “Be less ambitious” is one option, but this is the kind of project where my reach should exceed my grasp. And if projects come up that aren’t on the list, I shouldn’t hesitate to let some of the 101 slide. Beyond that? Well, let’s see what I come up with for 2012.

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Tolerance is not a form of intolerance

The idea that tolerance is just another form of oppression and intolerance crops up a fair amount on the religious right.
The argument; Sure, liberals say they’re tolerant but not really. Anyone who doesn’t fit their PC positions——someone who points out that Muslims are all terrorist killers and gays are filthy perverts——will be crushed, silenced, shut down. If you reject the PC lie that all religions are entitled to equal rights, you’ll be criticized, condemned and the target of moral opprobrium.
I’m honestly not sure how much of this is sincere (though wrong) and how much just trying to convince moderates that they’re the injured party. I suspect there’s a mix of both.
But it’s bullshit. Gays are not kicking skinheads to death in the street. Churches are not being shut down for preaching against gay marriage. As I’ve noted before, Fred Phelps, the hatemonger other haters hate (or are at least heartily embarrassed by) has Supreme Court protection for his funeral protests.
Or consider the Dominionists, the hard-core theocratic wing of the religious right. They’re quite open about wanting to take away other people’s religious rights (or even their loves——some American theocrats are involved with promoting Uganda’s death-for-gays law), but the response from most lefties is that they shouldn’t be allowed to do so. Not that they shouldn’t preach or make their case, but that we can’t let them win (some discussion here at Slacktivist). As Bill Clinton put it after Oklahoma City, if others abuse their right to free speech, we still can’t take it away——instead, we have to fight them by using ours.
Nevertheless, the myth of oppression-by-tolerance continues. As noted here, anti-gay groups are actively promoting the idea they’re being martyred for their religious views. At the link, anti-gay activist Frank Turek claims that he had a steady gig contracting with Cisco for some sort of seminars, then they found out that he’d written some anti-gay marriage books and dropped him like a hot potato. His conclusion: Christians who oppose the evil of gay marriage won’t be able to work.
Turek paints a somewhat distorted picture of himself, omitting some of his virulently anti-gay statements (even if gay is genetic, so are alcoholism and pedophilia and nobody thinks those are good!). If he’s telling the truth about losing Cisco’s business over his stance, I’m of two minds.
On the one hand, the idea of someone losing work because of their religious beliefs, however loathsome, unsettles me. If this is stuff he was doing off the job, I don’t think it should matter.
On the other hand, Cisco has the right to contract with anyone it chooses, within the limits of nondiscrimination law (and I do not think objecting to his views on gays is the same as discriminating against Christian faith per se). If the company doesn’t have confidence Turek can work effectively with gay employees, that’s a valid concern (and I think not doing business with a contractor is a different thing from firing an employee)——but what if he’s capable of setting his views aside and seminarizing them effectively? Then again, should gay employees have to take seminars from someone who considers them interchangeable with drunks and child molesters? I haven’t heard Cisco’s take on this, so I don’t know the how and why of their decision.
Much as I loathe the views and distortions of the anti-gay right (Turek asserts that government has to endorse het marriage to ensure the human race carries on, ignoring that for centuries, most marriages had no government or church sanction at all), I don’t want to see them oppressed, shut down or silenced. We can fight their efforts to take over, speak truth to counter their bullshit, but they’re entitled to speak too.
It’s a risky approach: There’s no guarantee truth or freedom will win out.
But if we play it their way, we’ve already lost.

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Slow start

I hate the writing days where I feel I’m just treading water and not getting any closer to shore.
My eHow work this morning was positively plodding. I don’t think it’s so much me as that we’ve had a temporary shortage of finance/business titles (it happens every so often) so I’ve wound up picking tough, cumbersome topics to work on. Even so, as that’s my bread-and-butter financially I feel annoyed with myself with not being able to master and finish them faster.
My fiction is doing well (as noted yesterday), but as I think I mentioned a few weeks back, none of the short stories I’m currently working is close to being finished. So even though I’m progressing I don’t have the satisfaction of having one I can see almost at the finishing point. And unfortunately there’s nothing I can do about it.
That being said, let’s move onto a fresh topic: Stereotypes! Which some of my weekend/movie watching reminded me of.
Dr. Bloodmoney is a Philip K. Dick novel set primarily in post-holocaust Marin County, which suffers as much from a loss of hope as anything else. While I like a lot of Dick’s novels, this one didn’t work for me at all: While more character-centric than most post-nuclear stories, the characters aren’t that interesting (except the DJ who, trapped in orbit, provides the broadcasts that give America something to focus on together. And even there it’s more situation than character).
But what really sticks out is one of the characters, a quadriplegic Thalidomide child (a medicine that caused horrific birth defects in some children after their mothers took it) with telekinetic powers. He’s the main villain, murdering anyone who crosses him or interferes with his community——in short, as vile mentally as he is physically.
While I’m not as passionate about disability stereotypes as sexist ones (I don’t mean that they’re not important, just that they don’t press my buttons the same way), this is still a discomforting portrayal of a disabled guy, especially as it’s the only one in the book (as I note here, when you have only one minority/female/disabled character, stereotyping is more of an issue than when there’s a plethora).
And then we have They Only Kill Their Masters, a 1972 film in which small-town police chief James Garner investigates the death of a local woman with a torrid sex life. It’s not a strong film; the efforts to interweave the mystery with Garner’s personal life only make it kind of slow and listless, rather than more interesting.
Anyway, we learn early on the victim was killed by one of her lovers. And that she was bisexual. So it’s not really that surprising when the killer turns out to be Hal Holbrook’s wife, June Alysson——because she was secretly gay! And she and the victim were lovers! So when the victim dumped her, Alysson took revenge! (are you gasping at this shocking plot twist).
I haven’t seen this particular twist that much lately, but I ran into it several times back in the last couple of decades of the last century. There was a long stretch of time where the only time you ran into a lesbian was when she outed herself at the end of a murder mystery to explain why she committed the murder.
Again, that wouldn’t bother me if we had a fair number of lesbian characters——jealousy is, after all, a classic reason for killing people——but in context, when that’s the only time you see a gay woman (as opposed to all the straight characters who aren’t killers) it pissed me off a lot.

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Filed under Movies, Nonfiction, Politics, Reading, Short Stories

Story problems and a couple of other things

The first other thing: I’m getting a lot more spambot commentary (a sign of growing popularity, mayhap?), so if anyone sends me a comment that gets accidentally placed in the spam cue, I may miss it. I try to weed them out, but the more I get, the more time that takes.
Second other thing: My new column is out on And, about some right-wingers’ constant quest for reasons to spend billions on missile defense.
Third: I was in a bit of a rush Friday, so I wanted to take the time now to go into the story problems I’ve been confronting lately and how I’m handling them (or not).
Mage’s Masquerade. This story of murder in a fantasy version of Regency England started out with a lot of humor, some action, some romance and a weak (though lively) plot. The next draft made more sense but lost most of the humor and a lot of the romance. Then I realized that if Sinclair and Cecily don’t know each other when the story starts, I can get the plot and the humor … but there isn’t enough time to develop the romance.
So, latest concept: Cecily and Sinclair are lovers, torn apart when her father refused the marriage (which will play a role in the plot). Cecily is magically disguised as a maid, trying to save Sinclair from a magical assassin. That way I have enough of a backstory to justify the romance, and the plot seems to work better. I’ll work on that this week.
Eye of White Cathay. This story set in al-Andalus——10th-century Spain——has been very slow going. This week, I began to wonder just why my poet hero, Simon is taking all these risks: It’s not as if he has anything personal at stake, so the story makes him awfully heroic.
But if he’s not the respected poet I’d been envisioning him but a kind of scruffy poem-seller, a seedy type about one step above French ruffian poet Francois Villon? Someone who’s situation is precarious enough that the Jewish advisor to the Caliph of Cordoba (part of my reason for using this setting is that Andalusian Islam was so tolerant of the Jewish faith at the time) could make things very awkward if Simon doesn’t play ball …
Brain From Outer Space. As I noted Friday, I’m bothered that the story suddenly rockets into all-out action in the last couple of chapters, making it rather unbalanced. I’m not sure how to fix this, but I have two possible solutions, now. One is to trim the opening, cutting out a few scenes.
The other is to trim some of the climactic action, such as the spaceships attacking Washington and the mind-controlled army assaulting the TSC base Steve and Gwen work at. The villain’s subtle, and while the attacks play into his grand strategy, it might work better if he doesn’t do anything so overt, confident his Big and Evil Plan cannot fail.
Impossible Takes a Little Longer. I thought I was done, but the romantic happy ending is starting to worry me. I’m now feeling the male lead is just too much of a mess and that a definite No from KC (instead of a Maybe) would be the best way to handle it.
The trouble is, not only does KC not get the reward she deserves (yes, I still think of finding someone as one of the standard hero rewards), but the relationship has been established from the first as very important to her, which makes losing it worse. Too much worse? Hopefully my writing group can give me some feedback on this.
So there’s where we are. I’ll let you know how the various tweaks progress.

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Filed under Politics, Short Stories, Story Problems, Writing

And books

GOYA by Robert Hughes does a good job chronicling the life and work of the deaf Spanish painter who overcame Spain’s crushing religious orthodoxy and cultural backwardness to become an art master. Knowing little of Goya beyond The Sleep of Reason Brings Forth Monsters, I was surprised to see how much of Goya’s work was conventional portraiture, though other work, such as his Disasters etchings, are certainly powerfully dark. A good job capturing Goya’s life and world.
BLACK SEA by Nicholas Ascherson recounts the history of the Black Sea region and the cultures who’ve populated its shores, from Scythians, Samartians and Khazars to traditionalist Jewish sects (“In trying to return to a purified Judaism, they appeared to some observers to have become Christians.”) through expat Poles and Greeks. While lots of interesting information, Ascherson has the travelogue tendency to go wandering off out of the nominal topic and the lack of more than one or two maps is a huge drawback in a book such as this.
For me REINVENTING COMICS is the least interesting of Scott McCloud’s books on the medium: Understanding Comics and Making Comics had a lot to say that relates to non-comics creating but this one focuses much more on comic books——the state of the industry, the potential for online comic-books, and (inevitably) how far short McCloud thinks they fall from their potential——and so had less to say to me. Given my interest in the other two though, I imagine an aspiring professional might find it useful.
BPRD NEW WORLD: Hell on Earth introduces the new status quo following the defeat of the frog plague in The King of Fear. The BPRD is now an arm of the UN,and with the walls between our world and that of the monsters torn, new horrors are constantly popping up (one character concludes that like crime, supernatural horror is now part of life). The particular challenge involves a sinister baby and its big brother (very Dunwich Horror), the return of former member Captain Daimio and the BPRD threatening to fracture over the cast’s personal agendas. Very good.
THUNDERSTRIKE: Youth in Revolt has the son of Marvel’s 1990 hero Thunderstrike reluctantly assuming his father’s power despite his conviction super-heroes are either idiots (his dad) or poseurs (everyone who failed to save him). This has a great, though short-lived adversary in Adam Mann, a phenomenally accomplished millionaire convinced that since he’s not a mutant, his success proves he’s the son of a god——and he intends to find dad and work out his father issues. Plus the immortal line “I’ll have you know my armor designer was a finalist on Project Runway!” Fun.
LUCK: The Brilliant Randomness of Everyday Life by Nicholas Rescher is a reflection on the oddities of luck that has some sort of story stirring in my brain, though I’m not sure what yet. Rescher points out the different kinds of luck (being born rich, being born into a good environment, having good things happen to you), the fact it’s not a zero-sum game (if a terrorist blows himself up on the way to an attack, that’s bad luck for him but possibly good luck for dozens of others) and that you can be lucky even when the odds are in your favor (e.g., surviving Russian roulette). I don’t know where I”m going with all that, but I’m going somewhere.

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Movies and TV

THE BAD SLEEP WELL (1960) is one of Akira Kurasowa’s contemporary dramas (drawing on then-current events in Japan) in which a corrupt executive’s right-hand man (Toshiro Mifune) is secretly working to undermine and expose a corporate cabal in revenge for the death of his father. If I didn’t know Kurasowa was reworking Hamlet, I don’t know I’d pick up on that——it’s much further from the original than Throne of Blood (Macbeth) or Ran (King Lear). Still, an excellent drama; the corporate setting would make it a logical double-bill with Ethan Hawke’s much-inferior corporate-takeover version of Hamlet. “The bosses whom you serve so slavishly are celebrating tonight.”
YOU ONLY LIVE TWICE (1967) has the Red Chinese employ S.P.E.C.T.R.E. to attack Soviet and US space launches in order to trigger a nuclear war; when MI5 fails to convince either side of the real enemy (another example of the Bond series’ emphasis on British superiority), it fakes Bond’s death (which serves no purpose other than to justify the title) so that he can go undercover and find SPECTRE’s HQ in Japan (with Donald Pleasance making a great turn as Blofeld). Nowhere near as good as the first three Bond films (among other things, there’s no strong players on the bad guys’ side besides Pleasance) this is livelier than Thunderball. I was also interested to discover the climax has a ninja army attacking SPECTRE——I didn’t think anyone in the west was using ninjas before the 1970s. “We consider this nothing less than a deliberate plan to take total control of space!”
DETECTIVE STORY (1951) is an adapted stage play in which vindictive cop Kirk Douglas’ relentless pursuit of a criminal abortionist (fudged with references to “black market babies” in deference to the Production Code) leads to the discovery wife Eleanor Parker paid the doctor a visit after a broken affair several years before they met. And Douglas, tragically, is not a man who knows how to forgive her … Very good; with William Bendix as Douglas’ better-hearted partner, Joseph Wiseman as a cat burglar and Lee Grant (shortly before she got blacklisted) as a nervous shoplifter. This would double-bill well with Sean Connery’s stage adaptation The Offense where Connery also plays a self-destructive cop. “I said ‘tramp’—I didn’t make up the word either.”

The second season of ROCKY AND BULLWINKLE on DVD continues the insanity of the first season, as the guys battle Boris and Natasha for control of an anti-gravity mine, Peter Peachfuzz becomes head of American intelligence and the robot whale Maybe Dick terrorizes the oceans. Greatly entertaining——the only weak spot is a cliched satire of method acting (the style Marlon Brando made famous, which movies, TV and even comic-books would parody for years). Plus, of course, Dudley Do-Right, Mr. Peabody and Sherman (no relation) and Fractured Fairytales.
The first season of VENTURE BROTHERS introduces us to the bizarre world of Hank and Dean Venture as they cope with their insane, neurotic father (loosely based on a grown-up Jonny Quest), brutal bodyguard Brock Sampson and adversaries including the inept super-villain Monarch and his lover Dr. Girlfriend. While I’ve seen episodes of this before, they gain from watching in order; I look forward to catching more of this.
MAX HEADROOM is an interesting example of a show that caught the zeitgeist (though I suppose that’s debatable, given the low ratings) and still works today: In a future world where TV ratings are tracked like the stock market and televisions have no off switch, a series of implausible events results in TV reporter Edison Carter (Matt Frewer) being saddled with Max Headroom, a computer-generated AI based on his own mind. With Max’s help, Carter and his team fight to bring a little justice to this cyberpunkish future, while tackling censorship, networking programming and Edison having his entire credit history rewritten. The special features include details on the genesis of the show and interviews with actors and writers (one of whom admits their 99-channel TV universe is one point where they fell short of what the future would bring). Highly recommended.

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