"When faced with a problem you do not understand,
do any part of it you do understand; then look at it again."
~(Robert A. Heinlein - "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress")

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Friday, October 28, 2011


(I pronounce it "key-so".  Yes, I made it up:  I'll tell you what it means down below).

This is not a review of the new movie Anonymous (2011), but of its basic premise that William Shakespeare could not possibly have written those plays, because the son of a glove-maker simply didn't have the "education" to do so.  How could he display such knowledge of history, politics, etc.?

That is liberal elitist bullshit at its snottiest: The notion that if you didn't go to the "right" schools, weren't taught by the "right" teachers, in the "correct" prescribed manner (from which no deviation is allowed), how could you possibly be expected to know anything?

Well, if you actually read the plays, you might notice that they are more poetry than prose, and that aside from a few scattered references, don't really say all that much about the inner workings of Danish kingdoms or moneylenders in Venice.

They, in fact, say much more about the inner workings of human beings, of which he probably had a fair amount of knowledge just from observation.

Shakespeare wrote most of his stuff between 1589 and 1613.  My gut feeling is that Will was a guy who loved to read (almost anything) and was blessed by it being easy for him (see my post On Reading... ).  I suspect that he had CISOH (Curiosity, Imagination, Sense Of Humor) in spades and was probably an interesting guy and fun to be around

(As to why CISOH is important for good writing: Well the need for curiosity and imagination should be obvious. A sense of humor keeps you balanced and helps you avoid taking yourself too seriously.  A lack of CISOH can turn you into a liberal. )

Did he have much material with which to indulge his curiosity?  Gutenberg's invention of movable type had made commercial mass printing of books available for more than a century before he began writing his plays; so I would have to say, Yes!

This whole idea of the necessity of a "proper" education to be able to succeed at anything is snobbery of the worst sort, and doesn't allow for people who were largely self-taught at their professions (Mark Twain, Thomas Edison, Tom Clancy, Steve Jobs, just to name a few).

Take Tom Clancy, for example (possible spoilers below).

"The Hunt for Red October" (1984) features an advanced Soviet missile submarine, a "caterpillar" drive almost undetectable by our listening devices, a way in which it is detected, naval tactics between our subs and theirs, and a lot more.

"Patriot Games" (1987) describes Irish terrorism, satellite detection of terrorist camps, anti-terrorist operations.

"The Cardinal of the Kremlin" (1988): Anti-satellite lasers and the Soviet war in Afghanistan.

"The Sum of All Fears" (1991): Recovering a lost Israeli nuke, turning that nuke into an even more powerful one, an abandoned East German nuclear weapons project.

"Debt of Honor" (1994): Japan going nuclear,  war with same,  airliner crashed into U.S. Capitol Building.

Now, how could a man who was an Insurance Broker possibly know all of that stuff?

It's simply unthinkable that he just reads a lot and could have combined CISOH with a boatload of common-sense to be able to come up with those stories.

Obviously, someone like Oliver Stone needs to get to work and direct a movie to expose who really wrote all those books with Clancy's name on the cover.

Doesn't that make as much sense as supposing that it had to be Francis Bacon, Christopher Marlowe and/or Edward de Vere (17th Earl of Oxford) who wrote all those plays?  After all, Clancy is a hell of a lot more detailed in what he writes than Shakespeare ever was.

What more proof do you need?

Damn!!! Tinfoil makes a lousy hat;  it's not rigid enough to hold its shape very well. :(

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Another Bumper Sticker ...

... seen this afternoon on the tailgate of a contractor's pickup:

        If  it  ain't  broke,
        fix  it  until  it  is!


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

11 Dec 2011 - Update at end - Not in Houston yet, but coming soon (I hope).
26 Dec 2011 - Another update at end - Finally have a date of general release.
06 Jan 2012 19:30 - Finally saw it.  I'll sum up at the end.

Can a story that was made into a truly excellent five and a half hour mini-series be rendered into a script for a two-hour movie, without proving "rend" a very appropriate part of that verb?

(WARNING: If you have never seen the movie Aliens, it's NOT what this post is about, but I DO use a scene from it to illustrate a point; making a bit of a spoiler.)

Coming in December is a movie version of John le CarrĂ©'s "Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy".  The novel was largely inspired by the Kim Philby scandal in the British Secret Service, and involves le CarrĂ©'s civil servant spy, George Smiley.

About as far from 007 as you can get, Smiley operates within a world of bureaucratic infighting wherein a memo can be as deadly as a Walther PPK.

He is brought out of retirement to look into the very real possibility that there may be a Soviet "mole" near the very top of British Intelligence, and has been for years.

A BBC mini-series, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979) was aired in 1979 ...
 Alec Guinness as George Smiley  -  from www.irishtimes.com

... starring Alec Guinness, and proved to be a superb and faithful adaptation of the novel, refuting arguments that major changes are necessary because film and print are such different mediums.  Although over five hours long (the DVD shows less running time, but that DVD has some scenes missing), that time is essential to telling the story and is gripping throughout.

The new version, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (2011), ...
 Gary Oldman as George Smiley  -  from www.thefancarpet.com
At first, I had considered using Photoshop to brighten this picture, but then decided:
No!  It's perfect as is.  Shadows are Smiley's natural habitat.

...scheduled for December 9 in the USA, and starring Gary Oldman, is listed at 127 minutes running time.

That is my greatest concern.  I have no qualms whatsoever about Oldman;  if anyone can follow in the footsteps of Alec Guinness, I believe it is he.  I just strongly doubt that two hours are sufficient to do justice to this story.  We shall see.

So, how does one turn five and a half hours worth of story into a two-hour movie script?

One way is what I call the "Alien Queen Method" (or AQM), which will be demonstrated here by Bishop (Lance Henriksen), the android in Aliens.

(The following images from Aliens are screen-caps from the DVD)

Let Bishop stand-in for the original story ...

The Alien Queen  has volunteered to be the writer tasked with adapting that story to a more manageable length ...

And, there you have it.  Story cut down to size.  That clear things up some?

Up there, I'm showing you the optimistic version of AQM.  In that last picture, you see the half of Bishop (or the story) that still retains sentience and some functionality in its remaining limbs.  Don't forget that out there is the other half;  and in the movie business it appears to be a coin-toss as to which half will make it to the screen.

There's also the Frankenstein version of AQM: Slice up the story, as in a Ginsu Knife commercial, pick enough slices (at random) to get the necessary length, and put them together.

Add to that the practice of dumpster-diving amongst the remains of other non-related stories for parts that might seem "cool" to the one trying to stitch this monster together.

"It's ALIVE!!!" - or more probably not.

So, have I a concrete example to justify my fears about the "Tinker Tailor ..." remake?

In 1985, I was mesmerized for three straight nights watching the six-part BBC mini-series Edge of Darkness (1985) that the local PBS station aired during that period.

In it, Yorkshire Police Inspector Ronnie Craven picks up his daughter Emma from a demonstration she was part of and brings her home.  On arrival, a gunman steps out of the bushes and opens up with both barrels of a shotgun, killing Emma who has stepped in front of her father, and escapes afterward.

Bob Peck as Ronnie Craven  -  screen-cap from DVD  -  Peck is probably 
best known to American audiences as the game warden in Jurassic Park.

That picture could probably stand a bit of explanation.  At first, he thinks that he was the target and that Emma was just tragic collateral damage.  After the shooting, Craven goes through Emma's things, discovering an automatic pistol and a gadget he recognizes as a radiation counter (which later goes wild when brought near his coat pocket containing a lock of her hair which he cut before releasing her body).

A Willie Nelson record of her's is playing and while Willie is singing ("Time of the Preacher") in the background ...
  "He cried like a baby
  "He screamed like a panther in the middle of the night
  "An' he saddled his pony
  "An' he went for a ride"

... he just lays back on her bed, with her teddy bear in one hand, and that pistol in the other, staring off into nothingness, obviously wondering. "WHAT in HELL have you gotten yourself into?!!!",

This man may possibly have some answers...
Joe Don Baker as Darius Jedburgh  -  screen-cap from DVD

... U.S. Army Special Forces Colonel Darius Jedburgh (A wonderful name to any familiar with the history of war, and with that of the wartime O.S.S.), apparently on indefinite loan to the CIA.  He knows that Emma was working with a protest group called GAIA that was trying to find out if a nuclear fuel reprocessing plant, in a mine at a place called Northmoor, may in fact be processing weapons-grade plutonium.

He knows all this because he set up the group to spy for him, and figures that Emma was far more likely to be the target than Ronnie.

What follows is the teaming of Ronnie and Jedburgh to penetrate Northmoor and deal with this.

Peck is first-rate (as you've come to expect with British professionals) and Joe Don Baker may have done his best work ever as Jedburgh.  I'm aware that Mystery Science Theater 3000 showed absolutely no mercy to Baker when they tore into one of his lesser movies ("Mitchell"), but he actually has done some decent work (The original "Walking Tall", a TV movie called "Mongo's Back In Town", and a Walter Matthau thriller called "Charlie Varrick").

In the new movie version Edge of Darkness (2010) , you have ...
Mel Gibson as Thomas Craven (with Ray Winstone)  -  from media.theiapolis.com

... Mel Gibson as Thomas Craven, a Boston Police Detective who eventually teams up with British operative Darius Jedburgh, played here by ...
Ray Winstone as Darius Jedburgh  -  aceshowbiz.com

... Ray Winstone, yet another of those British professionals who simply don't know how to do a second-rate job.

Now, for all the flack that Gibson's taken lately, I have to say that he is just fine here; as good as I've seen him in ages.  Nothing wrong with Winstone either.

The problem is that the story is so gutted to fit within that two-hour time frame.

In the BBC version, Craven genuinely wanted to find out what it was all about, to try and make some sense out of the senseless; NOT knowing being an open wound.

The movie version can be boiled down to the last sentence I quoted from the Willie Nelson song, being entirely devoted to going "for a ride", and seeking only vengeance (about all that two hours allow for, I suppose).  All the subtlety that made the mini-series so fascinating is completely gone.

Darius Jedburgh has been reduced to such a small part that what he does, and what happens to him make almost no sense whatever.

I've long ago lost count of how many times I've seen the whole 5+ hours of the mini-series.  I watched the new movie precisely once.

I honestly cannot recall if the movie had anything at all like the gun and teddy bear scene I described above, but it's little subtle touches like that and many, many others that the mini-series had and the movie doesn't that make the difference between somebody you'd like to know, and a corpse.

That pretty well describes the difference between the two versions of "Edge of Darkness".  I'm fairly confident that the Frankenstein version of AQM, along with some dumpster-diving, is an accurate description of how the movie was conjured up.

Gary Oldman's presence guarantees that I will check out "Tinker Tailor ...", when it gets here in six and a half weeks.  I've heard a little buzz that suggests it might actually be pretty good (it's already showing in Britain), but as I said way above, we'll see.

Update - 11 Dec 2011 - It ain't here yet. :(
All of the websites I've seen on this movie showed a Dec 9 USA release date.

I've now learned that date is for a "limited" (as  in L.A. & NYC probably) showing to get the movie officially released in this country before the end of the year, to qualify for 2011 Academy Award nominations;  Gary Oldman considered almost certainly to be nominated.

An Alamo Drafthouse manager I talked to on the phone thought they might have it by the 16th.  A manager at the Regal 23 I talked to in person thought possibly sometime in the next few weeks.  Nobody appears to know for sure.

I have some confidence (and a lot of hope) that I will get the chance to see it soon.  (Hopefully not to see my worst fears realized.)

In the meantime, is there anything else worth giving a look?

Check out Hugo.  Director Martin Scorsese (who gave us "Taxi Driver") tries his hand with a family film, and delivers pure magic.  That's as big a surprise as Bob Clark (who's legacy was the raunchy "Porky's" movies) turning out a gem like A Christmas Story in 1983.

"Hugo" just might be the best movie of this year. I'm totally serious. Give it a look.

Update - 26 Dec  2011 - Have just seen commercial announcing Friday, 06 Jan 2012 as date of general release in USA.

06 Jan 2012 19:30 - Mild-mannered steel.
That's how I would sum up Gary Oldman's performance here. Having to be an inquisitor searching out clues to the possible "mole" he's searching for, he doesn't attempt to be menacing in any way, but seems to peer into your very soul.  I'm pretty confident of a "Best Actor" academy award nomination for this, and he may have a pretty good chance of actually winning it.

On the other hand, squeezing the story down to two hours doesn't leave much for the other actors and truly does hurt it.  Not nearly as bad as what happened to "Edge of Darkness";  the gist is pretty much there, but it's only a pale shadow of the mini-series.

Bottom line:  Not bad, but Oldman's performance is the only reason to watch this.  If you have the patience and attention-span, get the DVD mini-series instead.

Friday, October 14, 2011

"The Thing" prequel - DAMN!!! - (Spoiler Warning)

I was really looking forward to this movie.  But...

Harry Knowles saw a preview screening several months ago.

Harry says THE THING prequel is the warmest load of shit on screen in ages!
and continues...

I hate the film. Hate it. Absolutely loathe it. It was my gut reaction the second it ended, but over the months I’ve had to consider the film – I’ve realized just how much I love John Carpenter’s original. I’ve rewatched it a few times since seeing the remake, and it really is a little bit of a miracle just how perfect that film is.
There’s a moment where he and his buddy are going to fly an injured Norwegian back to the real world. Now, we all know this character is a THING. There’s never any real suspense or mystery about who the THING is for the film, because the actors all play it like they’re The THING. Anyway, so they’re going up in the helicopter – and THE THING, who is a man. And knows this helicopter is going to take it to a populated area… well he decides to attack on the helicopter. Nevermind that this pretty much makes the THING a really stupid creature that can’t help but attack any non-THING. Something that the original THING would never have done.
THE THING is the exact kind of soulless bullshit that is meant to capitalize on our nostalgia – while really having no notion of how to really deliver on that. I know personally about a dozen horror filmmakers that would’ve given their last tooth to make a great THING prequel. THE THING is a marquee HORROR film to play with – and you went with a first timer that was grotesquely out of his league
I recommend staying home and watching the original with friends. Use your theater money wisely.

Now, let me tell you something about Harry Knowles, the creator of the Ain't It Cool News site (No! I don't know him personally, although he's just down the road in Austin).

He absolutely loves these kind of movies (horror and science-fiction);  so much so that he is far more forgiving and cuts a lot more slack than most critics.  My experience has been that when he feels something is a piece of dreck, you can pretty well take that to the bank.

So, will I check it out personally?  Don't really know. After all, I have been warned, by someone who usually knows whereof he speaks.

This is another Public Service Announcement from Paul In Houston. :(

Update - Same Day (14 Oct 2011) 20:17 - At the Murder By The Book store, here in Houston, F. Paul Wilson (one of my very favorite writers, author of "The Keep", the "Repairman JacK" series, and many others) showed up for a talk and a book signing.

I got my copy of his latest Repairman Jack ("The Dark at the End") signed and gave him my solemn  promise to be more careful about "Spoiler Warnings" when writing a post about something he may not have seen yet (especially if I had invited him to read the post in the first place :-).

Had a very good time. If you're wondering if my compliments may be because of the possibility he may come across this post, you betcha!

Oh, Wait!!! Ain't this post supposed to be about "The Thing"?

Ok, then.  I noticed that I had plenty of time to go and check it out before going to the book signing so, in a fit of curiosity and masochism, I went and did so.

Bottom line: I was fairly warned. :(

Thursday, October 06, 2011

Obviously, we Texans haven't a clue as to how to get things done ...

... as evidenced by this from Jerry Pournelle's Steve Jobs RIP; education, space, proscription, and debt. Lots of debt.  On that page, go down a bit and look for the letter entitled "FEMA".  It's about two ladies that went out to the area where the fires were being fought and set up their own organization to help the firefighters.

Here are some stories about the Tricounty fire in Montgomery, Grimes, and Waller County, Labor Day week, 2011. (Just northwest of Houston)
Kenna moved on to the Unified Command Post at Magnolia West High school. She looked at what the fire fighters needed, and she made calls and set it up.
As exhausted firefighters (most of them from local VFDs with no training or experience battling wildfires) and workers came into the school after long hours of hard labor, dehydrated, hungry, covered with soot and ash, they got what they needed. They were directed through the commissary, where they got soap, eye wash and nasal spray, candy, clean socks and underwear, and then were sent off to the school locker rooms for a shower. HEB then fed them a hot meal and they got 8 hours sleep in a barracks, then another hot meal, another pass through the commissary for supplies to carry with them out to the lines, including gloves, safety glasses, dust masks and snacks, and back they went.

One of the imported crews from California came into Unified Command and asked where the FEMA Powerbars and water were. He was escorted to the commissary and started through the system. He was flabbergasted. He said FEMA never did it like this. Kenna replied, ”Well, this is the way we do it in Texas.”
Mind you, all of this was set up by 2 Moms, Kenna and Tara, with a staff of 20 simple volunteers, most of them women who had sons, daughters, husbands, and friends on the fire lines. Someone always knew someone who could get what they needed – beds, mechanics, food, space. Local people using local connections to mobilize local resources made this happen. No government aid. No Trained Expert.
FEMA came in and told those volunteers and Kenna that they had to leave, FEMA was here now. Kenna told them she worked for the firefighters, not them. They were obnoxious, bossy, got in the way, and criticized everything. The volunteers refused to back down and kept doing their job, and doing it well. Next FEMA said the HEB supplies and kitchen had to go, that was blatant commercialism. Kenna said they stayed. They stayed.
The upshot? A fire that the experts from California (for whom we are so grateful there are no words) said would take 2-3 weeks to get under control was 100% contained in 8 days.

I considered asking Dr. Pournelle for permission to reproduce the entire letter in this post, but that would be a strain on hospitality and, as it was a letter from another, that permission might not be his to grant.

Besides, some of you need practice at clicking on links anyway, and you really should click on that link I provided near the top of this post, just to fill in the ellipses.  They make for fascinating reading, and I've only pity and despair for those too lacking in curiosity to do so.

Addendum a few minutes afterward - Is this unusual for this area? Not in the least. See also MORE ON THE HURRICANE IKE AFTERMATH, from September 10, 2008. It's just the way we are.

Another addendum - Why is it "just the way we are"?
I was lucky enough to be born in Texas. But many Texans were not so blessed, although they got here as soon as they could. :-)

A lot of people down here are from somewhere else.  Houston has seen waves of emigration from other states, from time to time.

When I first moved here, in 1964, the population of Houston was a bit over half a million.  Today, it is well over two million within the city limits, and approaching five million within the metro area.

In the late 70's, when the rust-belt states (Michigan in particular) were in recession, so many came here, that a PBS special noted ...
 "over a million people poured into Houston, looking for jobs, and found them!"

During that period, it did indeed seem like the Michigan license plates outnumbered the locals.

Believe it or not, most of us did not resent that.  Some did (even we are cursed with a few complainers), but most of us saw those expatriate Michiganders as folks who, instead of moaning and whining about their lot, actually did something about it.

In the pioneer days, that was truly a big deal, as
  "the cowards never started and the weaklings died along the way".

Today's times are a bit less drastic, but even now to pull up stakes and move 1300 to 1400 miles to better your situation is very daunting to many;  downright terrifying to some.

Wimps don't do that.  To those of you who have joined us in that way, let me tell you that most us of have nothing but respect for you, are glad to have you with us, and simply can never get enough of you.  You enrich our state;  by being here and making it worth bragging about.

One result of that is a significantly higher percentage of folks who are inclined to fix their own problems instead of waiting for others to do it for them.  Thus, the fortitude and self-reliance shown in the two linked articles above are not at all surprising.  It would be far more of a surprise if they were not evident.

So, to all of you who have joined us from somewhere else:

Thank you!

Oh, by the way - I've seen a couple of other posts linking to this one, and commenting favorably about it.  Please remember, I'm mostly reporting on an original post by Dr. Jerry Pournelle (linked near the top), and all I've done is to use it as an opportunity to brag about my state.  Pournelle (or more properly the one who sent the letter to him) deserves all the credit for the points made about FEMA vs the volunteers.


Update - 07 Oct 2011 - This post is linked at Volunteerism vs. Bureaucracy in which commenter Politicalprincess_007 takes us to task for inaccuracies in the TriCounty fire incident and provides sources refuting the impression of FEMA being the villain there. See her comments;  she makes a very good case.

As far as I can see, it in no way invalidates the main point of the post (emphasizing self-reliance and volunteerism), so I'm letting my post stand as is; with this very important clarification added.


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