Saturday, September 24, 2011

2 Rules I Live By

Besides the laws of physics (which, frankly, don't need anyone's belief to validate), I basically have 2 other rules I live by, and both of them come from Theodore Sturgeon, a writer almost nobody reads anymore (though everyone should take a crack at More Than Human).

Be that as it may, Sturgeon coined 2 rules that I find myself constantly repeating in a wide variety of situations.

The first of these rules is "Nothing is ever absolutely so." Originally known as Sturgeon's Law but now known as Sturgeon's Corollary (see below), this is an especially useful rule to trot out whenever someone starts making pronouncements of a political or religious stripe. Sturgeon's Corollary is a pithy reminder of the complicated & nuanced nature of the universe. After all, there are places & conditions where even the basic laws of physics break down.

The second rule I live by is "90% of everything is crud." Because of its popularity, this rule replaced the original Sturgeon's Law (see above), and its usefulness comes into play whenever some blowhard (besides me) starts holding forth with their aesthetic judgments, whether it be on music, movies, or whatever.

The point: crap is everywhere and it takes zero effort to point it out. Want to impress me with your acumen? Find something worth praise. And then sing its praises.

In other words, for me to respect your opinion, tell me what you like and why you like it. Doing so is much more difficult than just sitting back and tearing down the creative efforts of others.

So that's basically it: My 2 Rules to Live By. They're not the only rules I have, but they're my starting point.

I've found that dogmatists regard this initial position with horror, so I usually have to reassure them that my personal philosophy also includes such values as "people matter more than things," at which point the faithful generally calm down enough so that we can have a civil conversation.

Now, since the vast majority of people seem to need to name things before they can get comfortable with them, you can call me a "humane pragmatist" if it makes you feel better.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Drive - the novel by James Sallis

Yeah, but have you read the book?

In preparation for the new movie starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan, and Albert Brooks, I re-read the novel, Drive, by James Sallis.

It was not a waste of time.

Published in 2005, Drive is a short, pithy noir story featuring a young loner with an extraordinary ability with cars. As is customary in these novels, the young man (already a denizen of a kind of underworld) soon gets mixed up with some truly unsavory types who want him dead.

What this book has going for it are its quick-moving plot, its hard-boiled aesthetic & self-aware style, and its brevity. It's decidedly unsentimental while also being utterly romantic (in the philosophical sense), and I have the feeling that the movie adaptation is going to be an entirely different animal.

Oh, well, to quote that old crank, Ezra Pound, "you can't hammer a nail with a mattress," and who the hell would want to, anyway?

Enjoy both the book and the movie, recognizing them as different liquors distilled from the same fruit. Or not.

I'm done here.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Attack The Block - a popcorn movie

Get Your Popcorn Ready!
Attack The Block is a popcorn movie. It's entertaining and well-made and has all the aesthetic depth of a buttered snack.

The premise begs for a certain suspension of disbelief: a group of young thugs whose territory is a crowded housing project in London finds themselves at odds with a group of predatory aliens. The film's primary pleasures come in the exotic mix of elements from movie genres that are generally held as mutually exclusive: the science-fiction invasion movie & the urban teen comedy -- with a perfect tag-line: "Inner City versus Outer Space."

Thus do we get the well-earned punchline: "See, is that a dog? That is not a dog!" (See the movie to get the joke.)

I also see interesting parallels between the recent blockbuster Super-8 and this funny little import. Both movies feature youngsters having to cope with interstellar intrusions, but the tone & setting of each movie is vastly different. Where the former is clearly an earnest homage, the latter is just an exercise in fun. And I would argue that Attack The Block holds its own in this comparison.

This isn't Alien, and these ain't the Goonies...
I really enjoyed it, meaning that I just let Attack The Block wash over me like a light rain-shower on a hot day. I doubt its makers meant anything more by it.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Shakespeare by Anthony Jeselnik

Available from Amazon
It seems rare nowadays to see a comedian who just writes jokes.

Indeed, it seems downright old-fashioned.

But this is what Anthony Jeselnik does.

Not for him is the current fashion of rambling, confessional, self-aware storytelling that passes for stand-up comedy nowadays.

No, Jeselnik's set consists of a nonstop barrage of confidently-delivered, carefully-crafted jokes (i.e., setup & punchline), mostly designed to elicit cringe-inducing laughter.

His debut album, Shakespeare, is roughly an hour of killer material, though those with delicate sensibilities and/or underdeveloped affinities for sarcasm need not partake.

I first noticed him when he performed at the Comedy Central's The Roast of Donald Trump, where he clearly outshone the other roasters.

I really enjoy his wit and his craftsmanship. I bet you will, too.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday Mornings

Ever since I quit the rat-race job that had me working most weekends, I've been able to recapture my Sunday mornings.

Though I am by no means a religious person now, I was raised in a church-going family, and I retain certain feelings of observance regarding the last day of the week.

In other words, Sundays still feel sacred to me.

Even when I worked on Sundays, I felt this way. But now that I generally have Sundays to myself, I have begun to truly treasure them. (Actually, I always treasured them, but now I actively enjoy them.)

Sunday mornings are a quiet, reflective time -- a time for contemplation and renewal. I read and think and usually have an indulgent breakfast.

Among the things I take in on Sunday mornings are the week's offerings from Poetry Daily and Postsecret, as well as any 60-Second Science podcasts I've missed. They're dumb little rituals, sure, but they're mine.

And then it's time for football!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Stand & Deliver, RIP

The inspiration for Stand & Deliver

I am saddened today to hear of the death of Jaime Escalante, the real-life teacher who inspired the movie, Stand & Deliver, starring Edward James Olmos.

To read Mr. Escalante's obituary in the New York Times is to realize that heroism comes in many forms, not just the kind that earn medals. Born in Bolivia, Mr. Escalante immigrated to the U.S., got himself educated, and became an innovative math teacher whose success was so revolutionary that, at first, he was suspected of cheating.

Watch the movie. Read the book by Jay Matthews. Then go out and do as Jaime did: Work hard, and make a positive difference.

Here's to you, Mr. Escalante. May the shining example of your life live on in our memories forever. Rest in peace.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Google Voice

Those of you smart enough to have a Gmail account should also have a Google Voice number. It's free, packed with features, and, no, I am not a paid spokesperson for Google products.

You can also have calls, texts, and voicemails from your Google Voice number forwarded to your mobile phone (if you want), and Google even offers a free transcription service for your voicemails, although their transcriptions are currently nowhere near accurate. Indeed, these transcriptions are so hilariously inaccurate that I nonetheless keep reading them, just for laughs.

You can even forward texts from your Google Voice number to your email address. Also, you can make calls from this number, Skype-like, from your computer. If they're domestic calls, they're free.

Another nifty feature: you can change phones and wireless services, but, as long as Google is still in business, your Google Voice number endures.

So, this is the number I now give out to people, instead of the number of the Iphone I constantly carry around with me. That way, people I don't really know don't have the power to instantly intrude upon my life. In today's hyperconnected world, this small extra measure of distance is a luxury for an irritable curmudgeon like me.

This is also the number I give to those retailers who insist on asking for it as I make my purchases. It saves me from arguing with them.

And Google Voice has another cool feature that I just found out about: with a Google Voice number, you can install a "Call Widget" (see above) on your website that allows people to instantly call you with just a click, WITHOUT you having to post your Google Voice number on your site.

Get a Google Voice number! It'll make your life better.