Thursday, December 16, 2004

starting 24/2

Don’t remember where this comes from but there’s a saying that stories are based on conflict. In a melodrama one side is right; in a drama both are. I don’t expect all action films or superhero stories to jump into drama--sometimes good guys vs bad guys is no less dishonorable than merely funny comedy or for that matter the bulk of what actually fills newspapers--but often wish there was a bit more in that direction.

Case in point: Season Two of 24 which so far holds together better than the first season. The editing is tighter, the story more cohesive and there’s a feeling that more is at stake. But then this is only four episodes (disc one) and with twenty more to go there’s plenty that might run amiss. The flaw in Season One was that Jack was always right, not by definition a problem with thrillers but more so in one that pretends to be about murky realpolitik. (And let’s just drop the whole “in real time” claim; 24 has never been even remotely close to real time.) While last time it took almost the entire season for Jack to murder somebody, this go-round he does it right at the start. The writers made the victim a pedophile which apparently makes this OK, just as a somewhat less severe violation of civil rights was similarly justified on The Shield. If you think about it this type of character doesn’t fit into the story but probably a more plausible accountant or low-level thug would have given Jack a less clear moral problem. Following this approach, the NSA head is presented as more a self-serving obstruction than somebody who might be genuinely doing what he thinks is best. So President Palmer gets to make a “save lives” decision that could conceivably cost more in the long run even though in fact it changes nothing. There’s a story that Churchill allowed Coventry to be bombed rather than expose the fact that Allies had reliable intelligence on German objectives. Whether this is what really happened has been questioned by some historians but it did explicitly inspire one of the key moments in Babylon 5 and it’s this kind of ambiguity and sacrifice that’s mostly missing from 24.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

passwords & mindhacking

"But the zeal for impenetrable computer systems rubs up against the limits of human systems."

None of this is new of course but becomes increasingly a bigger issue. At my job I have to remember about six or seven passwords and access codes though oddly one that gives access to confidential information has a company-wide password (& of course I'm being deliberately vague so my boss wouldn't freak out if she ever read this). The idea is that employees can't lock out other people or that if they're sick or unavailable the program can still be used. Makes sense in a peculiar way but not smart sense.

My solution to passwords in general is that I only have about five or six (apart from the job ones) so that if I forget which one works at a specific site/program then I just have to cycle through them all. The drawback is that if anybody ever finds out one then they might be able to log in as me on certain other sites, though they wouldn't know which ones. To me this seems just as secure as having 30 or 40 different passwords but maybe not if there was more sharing involved.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Wilmot / Rochester

My blog was mentioned in a Bookslut post on John Wilmot (only a tiny jump in new visitors but thanks anyway). Don't know how long ago I first heard about Rochester--which is how he is apparently supposed to be referred to; being an American this sort of stuff is opaque to me--but picked up that Everyman collection as soon as it appeared. Makes you wonder what other stuff got passed around in Restoration samzidat and disappeared into a near-by fire. Rochester had enough of a literary reputation that some of his more, er, accessible poems show up in anthologies. I think there are even samples in The Oxford Book of Seventeenth Century Verse but can't look that up right now and Yale published a complete poems sometime in the 60s.

Another interesting to non-poetry-readers poet--though from a later era and quite different from Rochester in almost every way--is Christopher Smart who jumped between drunken sprees and religious madness (literally: he spent years in asylums) and wrote dense, highly charged proto-free verse that is sometimes like nothing else you've ever seen. Penguin put out a good selection several years ago but it's now out of print.

Were the Japanese time-travelling?

from the Netflix listing for Ringu:

"Based on the book by Koji Suzuki, this earlier Japanese version of the hit American movie The Ring is creepy in the extreme."

Friday, December 3, 2004

What can bibliophiles confess?

See My Own Private Library.

As another unreconstructed bibliophile all I can think about this is “Dude, you’re an embarassment to us all.” Come on, just admit that you’re in love with books, your own books not ones passing through your life before returning to libraries or used bookstores. Don’t justify it by preservation, economics, community and, uh, pedagogy. Stand proud and tall and say “I’m bibliophilic and I’ve got nothing to hide!”

Then again Mr. “Benton” seems like a different kind of bibliophile than I am. I don’t spend more on books than food (even allowing for exaggeration) and am not hunting down Diderot facsimiles or water-stained volumes of Lincoln’s portraits. I do share thrill of the shipments from Edward Hamilton (in fact there's one waiting for me at the post office right now) but haven’t dealt with Daedalus in years. (A current recommendation is Book Closeouts.) It's that same fascination as with used bookstores where you never know exactly what will turn up and often at quite a bargain.

Having worked in bookstores for almost 20 years and low-level arts journalism for even longer, I’ve met a variety of bibliophiles. Some are fascinated, even strongly attracted, to the physical book, often even regardless of its subject. They know cover artists, bindings, paper weights and such. Conversely, others latch onto subjects, perhaps specific ones (I knew somebody that would buy anything about Oscar Wilde) or maybe broader (know a lot of people with collections about contemporary art). This is closer to our Mr. “Benton.” Then there are the dealers, the ones with a strong interest in the money potential; they range from those where this is almost a sideline to the more mercenary (one I worked alongside for several years was so money-oriented and shady that several publishers finally refused to deal with him).

What kind of bibliophile am I? Perhaps I’m more a reading-o-phile. The physical book isn’t terribly interesting to me. I have no interest in first editions, in fact more a contempt for the undeserved place they occupy in literary culture. Even worse from the view of most bibliophiles I much prefer paperbacks to hardcovers: They’re cheaper, lighter, don’t have easily damaged dustjackets, frequently feature corrections and additions and in general simply look nicer. But that’s a minority opinion. I’m the kind of bibliophile that just grabs whatever seems interesting and am fortunate enough (I think) to have fairly catholic tastes. There are drawbacks to this I suppose but not for me the kind of narrowly focused reading characteristic of academics. (Which is not meant as academic-bashing but purely descriptive. Didn't Robert Frost somewhere remark that scholars accumulate knowledge through discipline and systems while a poet does so like somebody walking through a field collects burrs on his clothes? I'm not even remotely a poet but otherwise tend to fit that latter.)

I started to give an example by listing (for whatever reason I'm also a list-o-phile) the books piled by my chair and computer but that seems a bit excessive. So my current and recent reading may do: Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Freya Stark's The Valley of the Assassins, the most recent volume of Ultimate Spider-Man, Ben Mcintyre's The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan, Jon Stewart/Daily Show's America, MacCabe's Godard and a Wodehouse anthology.