Thursday, October 20, 2005

The Price of Fame

I've often thought that being famous would be unpleasant, and so have never been much interested in magazines about celebrity. James Lileks briefly sums up much of my thinking:
If I'm in the checkout line and I see two mags, one of which says, BIRD FLU WILL KILL US ALL, the other of which says CAMERON DIAZ'S ACNE HEARTBREAK, well, I'll go for the former. Because Diaz's skin condition is something I can get around to later after we've buried the dead. And if it's cleared up by the time the pandemic subsides? Happy ending for everyone.
Of course my chances for fame peaked in the 1980's when I appeared on a local Portland, Oregon television game show.

Won four nights running, choked on the fifth night.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Avian Flu, Another View

Glenn Reynolds posts this email from a reader who should know:

As a medical researcher, I want to make a gentle but sincere plea to the blogosphere to calm down this flu hysteria just a bit. The main way that flu kills is by predisposing its victims to "superinfection" by bacterial illnesses - in 1918, we had no antibiotics for these superimposed infections, but now we have plenty. Such superinfections, and the transmittal of flu itself, were aided tremendously by the crowded conditions and poor sanitation of the early 20th century - these are currently vastly improved as well. Flu hits the elderly the hardest, but the "elderly" today are healthier, stronger, and better nourished than ever before. Our medical infrastructure is vastly better off, ranging from simple things like oxygen and sterile i.v. fluids, not readily available in 1918, to complex technologies such as respirators and dialysis. Should we be concerned? Sure, better safe than sorry, and concerns about publishing the sequence are worth discussing. Should we panic? No - my apologies to the fearmongers, but we will never see another 1918.

Patrick Cunningham M.D.
Assistant Professor of Medicine
Section of Nephrology
University of Chicago

This follows much of what I have been thinking. (Way to go, Doc! You agree with an poorly-informed layman!) This is not 1918. Contra Reynolds, most deaths in 1918 seemed to be caused by pnumonia. And there now exists a vaccine for the most prevelant kind of pnumonia.

An interesting program concerning local strategies on dealing with a influenza pandemic was aired this weekend on our local PBS affiliate. As a major Pacific port city, we will probably see the disease before the rest of the country.* One of the points made was one my mother used to make: by the time a person shows symptoms, they have been contagious for a couple of days. This means that quarantine would be used at first to slow the progress of the disease, but effectively abandoned after very few days.

Instead, the worker suggested "social distance." That is, the closing of schools, theaters, and businesses. For a high-tech worker like myself this may not be such a burden. But what a dislocation for the retail economy!

*If it comes. I know that it's not a certainty, but contingency plans are about possibilities.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Obligatory "Serenity" Review

I saw Serenity opening weekend and I loved it. Mrs. Islander (who has been driven crazy by my incessant playing of the DVDs) also loved it. We both stayed through the credits and enjoyed the guitar rendition of the TV theme at the end.


While I enjoyed the movie, I have come to the conclusion (shared by David Edelstein over at Slate magazine) that the television show is better. Why?

Joss Whedon does two things better than almost anyone writing screenplays today: he builds great ensembles through writing superior dialog that builds character relationships; and he tells stories about big subjects with a light and deft hand.

The first of these talents blooms best in an extended, multi-episode format such as a television show. For example, the conflict between the Simon and Jayne is so well developed that, by the episode "Jaynetown," Simon's line "No, this is what it feels like to go mad!" carries a payoff far outweighing the setup of the previous 15 minutes.

The second of these talents, handling weighty issues with a light hand, is nice in a two-hour movie, but essential on the small screen. Quite frankly, the reason that so much television science fiction leaves me cold is the blunt club labled "importance" that most shows use to beat their audience soundly at least once an episode. Apparently, this beating is how those show's creators reassure themselves that they are creating more than mere "escapist" fiction. Star Trek was famous for its "message" episodes. Though they are often revered today, quite often those episode were the lamest. Let This be Your Last Battlefield, anyone?

By developing wonderful characters through great dialog and believable relationships, Joss lets the story carry the weight of significance. His characters rarely spout long didactic monologues explaining to each other why they are proud but free rebels. Mostly they complain that the food is lousy and that the ship is falling apart around them.

Joss Whedon has said that in the movie he collapsed the Simon-River storyline down from three seasons to two hours. How I long for those seasons! The places that they would have gone to! We could have learned the secrets of Shepherd Book, seen Jayne engage in more "thrilling heroics," and perhaps run into Saffron again.

I realize that we don't live in a perfect world and that it's not called "show friends," it's called "show business." I have enjoyed the movie "Serenity" on the screen and I will buy it when it comes out on DVD. I will hope for more stories of this band of scalliwags.

But I will always turn first to the "Firefly" DVDs. Hey! I think I'll just pop in "Our Mrs. Reynolds,"...

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Best Practices

I am compiling a style guide for my shiny new publications department (as a Wiki!). Part of that style guide is a list of "Best Practices," which for me resolves to a "must-do," "don't-do" list. The faithful reader is encouraged to submit additions.

== 10 Things You Must / Must Not Do ==

  1. Always ask yourself, “How will this read to outsiders.”
  2. Never assume your document will be read only by people for whom it was intended.
  3. Always use the styles, templates, and font families specified by Publications and Marketing that provide a consistent “corporate voice.”
  4. Never invent a new style for a single document.
  5. Refer to the Style Guide. The Style Guide is your friend. It saves you from having to make a dozen nit-picky decisions every day.
  6. Never attempt humor in corporate documents. When humor misfires, it makes everyone look a chump. (“Dying is easy, comedy is hard.” -the last words of Sir Donald Wolfit, British actor and director)
  7. Prefer the active voice.
  8. Don’t count on mechanical tools to relieve you of the burden of proofreading your document for sense and correct usage. If machines could write, they would already have your job.
  9. If possible, set a piece of writing aside for a short period before proofing—this separates you from the “heat of composition.”
  10. Remember that there is always one more typo.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The Tired Whining of Barry Lynn

On December 9th, 2005 a movie is being released which I am anticipating more than I anticipated Serenity. (And the faithful reader will know that I was crazy waiting for Serenity.)

That film is The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.

If you are unaware of what The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is about, meet Mr. Google. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is being produced by Walden Media. Walden Media has been creating a slate of family-friendly movies, including: Because of Winn-Dixie, Charlotte's Web, Around the World in 80 Days, and many more.

Of course, times being what they are, no good act goes unpunished. Don't you know that it's all a plot by those intolerant Republicans? (h/t Taleena)

The movie is being co-produced by Disney and Walden Media, which is owned by Philip Anschutz, a Colorado billionaire. Anschutz, his family, his foundation and his company have donated nearly $100,000 to Republican candidates and causes in the past three elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Worse, the movie actually deals with religious themes. Not that there's anything wrong with that; but they are Christian themes! That obviously means that we can't talk about it!!

Apparently, Jeb Bush, that scalliwag, set up a reading program for Florida kids. It's called, creatively enough, "Just Read, Florida." The state is partnering with the private sector to juice up the program with some bling.* The Walden Media company put up prizes for book-film tie-ins that they are promoting. First book? Florida novelist Carl Hiaasen's children's book, Hoot. So far, so good. Cool, local son and all that. But what's up next?

You know that with a name like "Bush" he has to have some dark, occult motive.

It's that movie that's coming out December 9th.

Another contest, more prizes:

The $150 million film opens Dec. 9, and three sets of winners will get a private screening in Orlando, two nights at a Disney resort, a dinner at Medieval Times and a copy of the C.S. Lewis children's novel signed by Jeb and Columba Bush.

So his sinister plans are revealed at last! This has the usual outgassing by the same, tired, voices. Cue Barry Lynn:

"This whole contest is just totally inappropriate because of the themes of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," said Barry Lynn, director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. "It is simply a retelling of the story of Christ."

And y'know, we can't talk about that man.

The state's Just Read, Florida Web site links to Walden's, which then links to an "educator's discussion board" — the most popular thread of which is about a "17-week Narnia Bible Study for children."

So to be violated by this unholy alliance, a child would would have to

  1. Surf to the Florida State site
  2. Click through to Waden Media
  3. Click through to the "Educator's discussion board," (which all children will do)
  4. Click onto a discussion of a bible study (a real alternative for those hacker d00dz)

Four degrees of separation. The horror; the horror.

Barry, I've got bad news for you. On the internet no one knows you're a dog. I don't post a big blogroll and I am sure that I am some small number of clicks away from material that is completely inappropriate for viewing by children. Why don't you take that crap on, Barry? Insist that inappropriate material on the internet be placed on domains that are easy for parents, schools, and libraries to screen out? Maybe your Hollywood contributors would take that amiss?

But wait, there's more guilt by association!

Disney and Walden have hired the same company that promoted Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ to try to reach religious moviegoers about The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, according to published reports.

This apparently is Grace Hill Media, a company that promoted Joss Whedon's Serenity to try to reach bloggers.

But take it away, Barry:

Lynn, a Unitarian minister, said he loves the book as well as the others in the Narnia series because of their Christian themes, but believes it is wrong for the government to sponsor a contest that essentially promotes one religion.

"This would be like asking children to watch the movie The Passion of the Christ and to write an essay with the winner getting a trip to Rome," he said.

Lest you be confused, Barry Lynn may love the books, Barry Lynn may be a Christian himself, but his head is firmly planted in places that are impolite to mention.

Barry, why don't you admit it: you couldn't care less about "the children." You care about your narrow, cramped and mean view of the constitutional freedoms that are being exercised by people that are happier, smarter, and more free that you have ever known. You care about pandering to your Hollywood contributors. You have completely unmoored you boat from reality.

(That idea about a trip to Rome is a great idea, by the way. Even to a Protestant cracker like me!)

* Oh dear, did I just type "bling"? I blame it on the heat of composition.

The Bluest Skies You've Ever Seen

...are in Seattle. That's what Perry Como sang for the TV series Here Comes The Brides.

This is the kind of day that keeps people sustained through the grey, damp winter and spring. It's a cloudless day, mid-to-upper 60's, humitity is 57% with a light breeze from WSW.

Pomona, now is mid-80's, but with humity at 22% it seems cooler (that's what I told the chicken in my oven). Austin is 80 with thunder and humidity at 80%. Yow!

And so I'm out to suck up as much of this day as I can.

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