Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Four Books, each of which you can read in an afternoon

I don't have a TV or the internets in my new apartment, so i've been forced to read alot and sleep early:

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark

A single woman takes a vacation from her job as an accountant.

A friend of mine has been talking about Muriel Spark since she (Spark) passed away a year ago. Running out of ways to avoid doing work, I finally borrowed the aforementioned book. It's written in a detached style that manages to hold your interest and then totally messes with you at the end. Spark is imaginative and doesn't give you the hollywood ending that you think she is leading you to. After you read it once, you'll want to read it again to see how you could have missed it. Spark is the kind of writer you think that you can be, if only you had any good ideas. Needless to say, I'm now hooked. The next book by Spark that I'm reading is called Memento Mori. It's about the various responses to a prank phone call a group of different people receive reminding them that they will die one day.

On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan

How a couple (both virgins) spent their awkward wedding night together

I kept hearing about *this* guy and *this* book. Once I realized how short it was, I caved in. Don't read the reviews for this book, they give too much away! I thought it was mostly hilarious and then you get hit with a bad case of "Carpe Diem" at the end. This book is the fancy literary analogue to the movie "American Pie." Be sure to keep track of the number of times that he uses the phrase "a sign of maturity." McEwan is the kind of writer that makes you realize that, even if you had a good idea, you couldn't ever come close to his writing ability.

The Little Book of Plagiarism by Richard A. Posner

Similar topics as my earlier post, but more coherent & incisive, using fewer but bigger words

Posner is a judge who is famous for, among other things, his contributions to law and economics. He defines plagiarism as "unauthorized copying that the copier claims is original with him." In addition, this claim *must* cause the copier's audience "to behave otherwise than it would if it knew the truth." One thing that I learned was that judges are, at most, simply editors of their opinions which are actually written by their clerks. I don't know if this is also true for the supremes. One final point: Posner argues that originality and creativity are two related but very different things (perhaps a future post).

The Big Book of Irony by Jon Winokur

What Irony is and isn't, Who does it well, and Why some people don't like it and why

This little book is funny yet thought-provoking. Winokur is a master quote collector and it shows. He frequently refers to Douglas Coupland, who coined the term Generation-X, and a very bright but strange guy named Jedediah Purdy. Purdy wrote a book in his early twenties lamenting the widespread use of ironic detachment in his peers (people our age).

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Happy Independence Day

A great day for barbeque, baseball, and remembering one of the most significant documents in history. I've seen a few references this year to the rough draft of the Declaration which among other things contains a remarkable attack on slavery:
he has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating
it's most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of
a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying
them to slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable
death in their transportations thither. this piratical warfare,
the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the Christian
king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN
should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for
suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain
this excrable commerce
Pretty amazing. I'd also like to echo a point made by a commenter on Volokh that we were not Americans fighting the British. We were British, and we were fighting our own people and our own government. I cannot imagine what courage and principle it took to sign one's name to such a document, but we owe a lot to them and part of what we owe is to preserve what they fought for.

Monday, July 2, 2007

More than Meets the Eye... Really?

I was discussing this Saturday night at a party and thought it would make for a good first post. This is a cautionary tale.

There are many things that I have always wanted to do, and as it so happened recently, several things aligned in a way that allowed me to do one of those things. Like any person who has "sold" out to industry, my easy job (by CalTech standards) gives me plenty of disposable cash and quite a bit of free time on the weekends. Add to that a Hollywood marketing juggernaut, and I quickly found myself longing to complete this specific quest once and for all.

I suppose this particular desire originated sometime around 1985 but has been largely dormant since that time. There was a brief stint when I tried to accomplish it during 1998-9. Jaideep joined me for a while, but alas the zeal for our adventure faded away quite rapidly... until this month.

I am, of course, talking about watching the entire Transformers Generation One Cartoon Series.

By my calculations, this would be a relatively easy task for someone who routinely watches seasons of TV shows (all 5 seasons of 24, Veronica Mars, Lost, etc) in 24 hour chunks. There are 98 original episodes and one animated feature film. Clocking in at 22 minutes an episode, that's only ((98*22)+120)/60 = 38 hrs -> easily manageable as a two weekend event.
So, I blocked off my calendar, invited others who may have been excited by the premise, and got down to business. 51 episodes in, here is what it is like:

Episode begins with Decepticons attacking some sort of hydroelectric dam/oil rig/nuclear plant/energy source. Autobots, notified by their all-knowing computer Teletraan I, go to defend humans. Battle ensues. Everyone shoots at everyone but no one hits anyone. Starscream mocks Megatron's leadership abilities. Decepticons are somehow defeated and escape.

Repeat 51 times.

Granted this was a cartoon series designed to push a toy line, but watching the episodes back to back unexpectedly highlights the obvious redundancy in the first two seasons. My expected glee at reliving my childhood is slowly being replaced by the dreaded realization that my 10-year-old self was easily entertained and possibly stupid.

Nevertheless, I march on, hoping that my memories of a deeper mythology will be justified in upcoming episodes. Indeed, the last few story lines have taken place on other planets and have begun to flashback to the Cybertronian past of these robots in disguise. All the while I keep watching, anticipating the moment when the series will reveal its grand story and show me once again that this cartoon truly was more than meets the eye.
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