mackknopf: (Books)
(Written in 2007, I dug this up while searching for something in my file archives.  Perhaps I'll post some more of my old fiction.  It might even inspire me to write poetry again, though I'm not sure if this is a good idea or not.)


Preface: This is not my dream. These are not my favorites. (At least, not all of them.) Perhaps they are yours, though. Won't you share?

Books on the Library in Hell

The tax code, of course, stretches across rows and rows of shelves, much as it does on the surface. The other law books have been removed, save for federal regulations and state codes. Case law is not allowed here, because the cases are always continued, dismissed, or appealed, and nothing of any substance is ever written down. The wily old judges do not allow it, nor do they let commentaries or form books on the premises. Lawyers must argue from memory by what they glean here, and can never rely on what they have been told before.

The Necronomicon is here, as is the contents of Stephen King's head, and even darker writers than those of the Providence eccentric or Uncle Steve. Baudelaire and Barker and Poe have a home here, but the words do not scare, only bore. No thrills can be found on these walls or in these pages. Every dream you ever dreamed that you didn't like, though, that woke you in sorrow or anger or fear, is here on the shelves, portrayed in unflinching accuracy and photorealistic pictures. Carefully absent are any ones whose whimsy you actually liked. The rows of books head towards infinity in any direction, halls echoing with the sounds of people who you cannot see, yet are there just beyond sight, walking through their own particular prisons.

The books you want the most, those you desire to own with a burning possession, are visible on the top shelf, no ladder in sight. These are the works of your favorite authors who died before they finished, the lost Hemingway manuscripts, the lyrics to the last Jim Morrison tunes, the ending to Charles Dickens and Patrick O'Brien's final efforts. Perhaps these are not your favorites? Yet they are. The titles are clearly visible. They spell out, in red binding and silver and black text, the name of their contents. Yet when you reach up to them, stretch as you may, they remain out of reach. Climbing the wooden racks is equally useless, because your arms tremble with weakness, and failing, you give up.

Perhaps the map room will do you better. These locked cabinets hold the geography, captured in parchment and vellum and other paper, of Narnia, Shangri-La, Wonderland, the Lost World. Somehow you know they also include notations that would lead you to the entrances, perhaps not out of Hell, but then why would you care? Unfortunately the key is lost, and you can only stare at the glass slats in frustration, a sliver of coastline visible here, an overhead view of Mount Doom visible there.

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mackknopf: (Celtic Cross)
I went to Tuscaloosa last Sunday for the first time since the tornados to view the devastation and visit my Aunt Brenda with Mom and Dad.  I'd seen pictures, but there's nothing quite like seeing for yourself.  Tragically, the tornados hit mainly the poorest parts of town, though some of downtown and near the campus was hit as well.  The University of Alabama and the hospital escaped unscathed, I'm glad to say, as did my aunt's neighborhood.  But Alberta City, where the Mexicans and other generally poor people live?  It looks like cluster bombs went off.  I can only compare it with pictures I've seen of destruction in Afghanistan.  I had no idea the area affected was so large.  

Brenda and her husband, Jimmy, drove me and Mom around in their SUV.  One of the first buildings we passed going in was used for a temporary morgue, though the bodies have since been moved.  By now, some of the trees and destroyed cars had been removed, but by no means all.  Jimmy went out to this area with his chainsaw shortly after the tornado, along with a lot of others, to help clear the roads.  They're passable now, and I'm told that the scene looked much worse when fallen trees were everywhere. 
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mackknopf: (Typing Away)
Today (well, two hours ago, before Tuesday turned into Wednesday) was Bob Dylan's birthday.  He started off as one man, one guitar, and a harmonica.  Plugging in for the bands came later.  I experienced his music out of order (sort of how I read books, actually), so I never had the experience of being shocked by his musical transformation at the Newport Folk Festival.  I doubt it would have bothered me, though.  I like most everything he's done, though not his newest stuff.  His voice is just about gone, so I didn't go hear him when he came to Birmingham a few months ago.  This makes me sad, that I feel he needs to retire, but he's still touring (off in China, last I heard).  I guess, Bob, you can keep playing as long as you like.  When you retire, though, Dad won't be surprised if you get the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Always reinventing himself, the amazingly prolific Dylan has created a vast body of work. And oh, the song writing and composing -- what a treasure!  There are some who never liked his voice, but I always did, rough or high, until a few years ago.  To quote Don McLean in his song "American Pie," it's a voice "that came from you and me."  Never technically perfect, it's always been full of passion, ideal for folk music or folk rock.

I've seen Bob Dylan a number of times and enjoyed every concert.  I'm not sure how I can tell you how much his songs have mattered to me, or the connection I feel to the man.  Wherever he is right now, I hope he had a great birthday, full of friends and love.  I'll leave you with a few quotes, though I could quote many more from memory.

"To live outside the law you must be honest."

"At midnight all the agents and the superhuman crew/ Round up everyone who knows more than they do."

"Peace will come with tranquility and splendor."

mackknopf: (Justice)
The practice of law has been called a license to learn.  It is one of the most pivotal experiences in my life and shaped my character.  I count it, along with my going to college at UC Berkeley, as one of the two great adventures of my life so far.  Dad said it was a way he knew for sure that I could make a living.  My Uncle Ray told me I would never regret going.  All of the above is true.  However, when going to law school, I wish someone had told me a few more things to prepare me.   The below is advice I am giving to a buddy with an engineering degree who wanted to know more about what it was like.

1.  To get into law school, take the LSAT prep course.  All the other people getting into good schools will do this. Then take the LSAT and get a good score.  You will also need decent references.  For choice of school, consider how much debt you want to go into (get government loans, not private), and how reputation matters to you.  Public is generally cheaper than private and is usually just as good or better (Univ. of Alabama versus Cumberland, for instance).

2.   Make sure you know why you want to go law school.  "Because Dad wanted me to" or "I can make money when I'm done!" was not sufficient to get me through.  I went because I'd been to a class beforehand and liked both the subject matter (contracts, not that I use it much) and the school.  I stayed because I could sense I was meant to be there.  I fit (even when I had little in common with the other students) because I wanted a career I would love, not just a job.  After all, they were going to teach me how to argue for a living! 

Wanting to help people came later in actual practice for me.  My attitude was that failure was unacceptable; I had nowhere else to go and no fallback plan.  It was win or nothing.

3.  You will become a monk for three years.  Well, you might have a significant other, but relationships tend to either break up under the stress or lead to marriage in law school.  It's definitely a very ascetic life, but has a certain purity and rigor that was good for me at the time.  "The law is a jealous mistress” continues to be true even today, but I have more free time. 

Pick one hobby.  That's all you're going to have time for.  Also, decide which friends you want to keep, because you're not going to have a whole lot of time to interact with them.  I had my regular role playing game, friends outside of law school, and one good friend in law school (Dan), who helped me make it and vice versa.

4.    Make a general plan for what you want to do after school, but be okay with making changes in it.  Realize that what you think you’ll want to practice might change after  you go through the actual classes.  If you can’t stand the idea of defending people who might be guilty (and often are), for instance, don’t do criminal defense.  Recognize that some fields of interest make more money than others (like personal injury lawsuits or insurance defense).  Family law is relatively speaking, a poor cousin to the land of civil law practice, but I find it satisfying.  Just have an open mind.

5.    Do you want to work for yourself or somebody else?  The first is very difficult.  If I wasn’t working with my father, an established name, I’d be struggling.  It wasn’t very easy the first year out of law school until I carved out a niche (criminal defense and family law).  Helping those who were hurt as a practice came later.  Working for someone else is more lucrative.  On the other hand, I do not work well under others, and I’ve grown to love the freedom I have being on my own (though not so much as not knowing where the next case will come from).  It all depends on your temperament.

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mackknopf: (False Gods)

I'm reading books on story structure and having a number of new thoughts lately.

From my cousin Greg in Texas: "I’m more a mystery and sci-fi kinda guy but the summary sounds interesting enough.  You really need to capitalize on the first three words of the summary.  That’s quite a funny lead in the novels title.  No doubt intended.  Sounds like fun to work on."

My response:

Gracias. :)

Yes, it's instant conflict to be the first atheist in a world full of "gods," most of whom take offense at being told off!  The main character gets his own set of powers, so can successfully oppose them.  Some of the same issues come up as in T. H. White's "The Sword and the Stone," namely whether might can be used in the service of right.  Self-obviously (to me), might alone does not make right, though it may impose a twisted sort of order.  This theme, along with order versus chaos, law and civilization versus anarchy, is key to why I can still enjoy (well-done) superhero comics. 

Khamaat, the protagonist, is quite offended that a bunch of people with superhuman powers are claiming to be omnipotent, ominiscient, omnibenevolent, etc., and sets out to oppose them.  The counterbalance to him is the love interest, who also develops powers, but is not quite ready to throw the baby out with the bathwater yet when it comes to belief.  So they have a lot of conflict themselves even as their attraction develops. 

The antagonists are a lot of fun to write, too.  The main adversary of the god Set, for instance, is Machiavellian, sneaky, suave, and with irritatingly good points sometimes.  Set was part of the royal family and was their strategist before being exiled into the desert for wanting to marry his sister, Isis.  See, his brother Osiris got to marry Isis instead...

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mackknopf: (False Gods)

Tagline: "Mutant Gods"

Egypt's first atheist, a scribe, and a true believer, a priestess, find their lives troubled by Amun, the Hidden God, thought long dead when the current pantheon took over.  Five thousand years ago, they travel to the capital city of the Two Lands, now one, to ask help from Osiris, king of the gods and pharaoh.  However, Set, god of chaos and corruption, is the true power behind their misfortunes.  Khamaat and Mereyeta must set the gods back on their proper courses, defeat Amun and then Set, and somehow accept that they, too, have become like the gods.  The ability to shape the energy of the sun runs in the bloodline and comes out at the point of death when a person refuses to die.  For the gods are all too human, and their religion is false.  Or is it?  What does it mean to become a god, and what does it mean to be human?


I've been in touch with the writing group I mentioned previously, and supposedly they're meeting this Tuesday at 6:30 p.m.  However, no one's announced where the meeting place is, so I'm a little concerned.  I hope that A) it hasn't fallen apart already and B) I haven't already been uninvited!  This is a former graduate creative writing class that was taught by professor and author Kerry Madden last semester.  They decided to stay together once the class ended.  I spoke with Dr. Madden at the university party about wanting to improve my writing, and she introduced me by email to this group.  Now I just hope they actually meet.

I've been daydreaming scenes and plotting again, and I need to rework my outline -- not drastically, but trying to fill in holes and places where I needed more of a framework to go off of.  For those who tell me, "Just write," if I do something this big without an outline, I find I spend too much time figuring out where I'm going next.  Having a structure really cuts down on hitting my head on the desk in frustration and frees me to get scenes done that are less likely to need removing for tangency.

mackknopf: (Buffy Sword)
As for Alabama, you know it's bad when the President of the United States is visiting the town of your law school alma mater to survey the devastation... Tuscaloosa is only an hour away from Birmingham, and it got really trashed.  I've had friends with missing relatives in nearby Pleasant Grove.  Amber recently found her nephew and his family alive and unhurt, fortunately, but the house was gone (which is what she saw first).  In Tuscaloosa, the tornado missed my aunt's house, but one friend had her apartment complex partially wiped out as if by a bomb. (Luckily, she was inside the UA school and also has renter's insurance!).   It's been scary in these parts... I live on Southside Birmingham, though, so all we got was heavy rain.

Neither my place or my parents' even lost power, but the outlying metro Birmingham area and poorer nearby towns were hit hard.   About two hundred people have died in Alabama, and pictures resemble destruction from someplace like Afghanistan or Iraq.  As for my family, we watched the TV nervously and eyed the "storm shelter" (hallway closet) as the bad weather quickly passed from our area.  My cat, Beowulf, kept trying to get outside (he has no sense), but we made sure he stayed in until the storm passed in about forty-five minutes. 

Historically, tornadoes miss my neighborhood because we're in a hilly area, and they tend to break up.  So I wasn't too worried, but I kept a watchful ear for the television broadcast while this was happening.  Apparently these were tornadoes of epic, historic, even mythic proportions.  My friend Melissa said the one hovering over Tuscaloosa didn't even look real, but animated, it was so perfect.  The strangest news footage came from someone in a car with a mounted camera who was apparently chasing a tornado on the I-65 highway to provide pictures.  That seems to be the definition of "suicidal" to me.

Read more... )



mackknopf: (Books)

This was one of the books I received as a birthday present on Friday.  Part one of three, it is compelling, gripping, and deeply disturbing.  I do not recommend it unless you want to read what comes across as a waking dystopian nightmare.  Basically, a group of amnesiac teenage boys are trapped in a giant maze and must get out.  It's like being in a Hell, where you're periodically tortured, but you can't find the exit. 

What's worse is it strongly resembles a recurring series of my bad dreams where I'm trapped in a world by myself or with a few friends, steadily losing them as I advance.  I often end up alone.  Every time I get close to being free, it turns out to be an illusion.  This usually resolves by either a confrontation with some monster (the Devil, demons, zombies, you name it), death in the dream (semi-permanent), or waking up. Occasionally I rise to consciousness, then fall back into sleep and the dream resumes.  To avoid that, I have to take some serious steps to get to a full waking state (like showering, taking my medicine, actually leaving the bed, etc.).

Avoid at any cost.  This should have been labeled a horror book, not Young Adult.  Now I have fresh material for my subconscious to process and return to me, unfortunately.  Those dreams of mine do resemble the gnostic concept of breaking through successive illusions (example: "The Matrix" series of movies).  Christianity and some versions of Buddhism have hells in them, too.  However, I don't particularly believe in Hell as a place of punishment.  I was raised Episcopalian (which doesn't dwell much on Hell), not Baptist, so I'm not sure where those dreams are coming from.  The author of The Maze Runner, however, does reveal why the kids are in this maze.  It's a grim revelation and sets up what happens in the next two books, which I won't be reading.

mackknopf: (Typing Away)
"Did the natives surrender?"

"They did not."  -- Nameless flunkie to Kang the Conqueror after meeting the Avengers.

If you're not watching The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes, why aren't you?  I suppose I will accept the following answers: you have an irrational dislike of superheroes, your cable or satellite service doesn't get Disney XD, or you've let your inner child grow old and gray.  For the rest of you, definitely check this show out!  It has provided some of the purest pleasure on television that I can remember in some time.  Even Kristin said she would like the Avengers -- if she was a ten-year-old boy.  Okay, that's not the best recommendation on the planet, but I'll take what I can get.

Christopher Yost  is the lead writer.  He has written episodes of the cartoon X-Men: Evolution, as well as arcs of the comic books New X-Men and X-Force.  Earth's Mightiest Heroes provides entertainment for all ages, in my opinion.  It's clean enough that a kid can watch it, but well plotted enough and with such good dialogue that adults can also enjoy it.  The voice actors are uniformly excellent, and the characterizations are spot on.  The cast includes a host of heroes and supporting players from the Marvel universe, along with a team core.  The recurring heroes include Tony Stark the futurist, the gruff and inwardly conflicted Incredible Hulk, the stranger in a strange land who is Thor, the regal Black Panther, Hawkeye the ex-SHIELD agent, the engaging Ant-Man and Wasp, and of course, the noble Captain America. 

But don't worry, other supporting characters show up as well from all time periods of the comic's history. There are minor changes.  For instance,  Nick Fury is now a black man, a good idea probably borrowed from the Ultimate Marvel universe (don't worry, none of the bad writing was brought over, only that).  Continuity comes from a mix of classic Avengers comics and new plots from more recent stories.  Longtime readers of the various comic book incarnations should immediately feel at home.  The show seems firmly set in a wider Marvel universe, with cameos by villains of all stripes, alien heroes like Captain Marvel (a revised version, though). SHIELD is running national security; international terrorist groups are rampant; prisons have been built in the Negative Zone (though no superhuman civil war has yet happened); and even the Fantastic Four have made a background appearance.

Read more... )


mackknopf: (My Words)
I've finally decided to take the plunge and start working again on my novel False Gods, with the intention of finally finishing a draft.  Committing to a project like this is a major undertaking and will require much discipline, but it's only a few pages a day, right?  Those few pages, if done consistently, will add up to a completed manuscript, hopefully.  Then I can start revising it, mail it off to a publisher, and start work on another book while I'm waiting.  (Or maybe I won't do another book, I'll just have to see.)  I've been noodling around with FG, much as one would strum a few chords on the guitar.  I've been working on the outline and doing some research reading, but I'm almost done with both of those.  I just need to sit down with the outline and decide where Book One ends.

Book One, you say?  Well, I'd originally intended to write one complete novel.  More and more, I'm thinking it needs to be two or three (a trilogy, even), unless I drastically cut chapters.  That's why I'm working on the outline.  As projected now, Book One would have a definite ending -- the heroes kill the villainous god Amun -- and then leave them with the even bigger problem of the god Set, who then takes control of Amun's army to overthrow his brother, the Pharaoh Osiris.  So there would be a climax, some resolution, and a cliffhanger for Book Two.  I'm actually not sure about what would happen in Book Three.  I appear to have enough plot to fill only two books, which is an unwieldy number seldom seen or sold in stores. Everyone wants a stand-alone or a trilogy (or quartet, quintet, and in Robert Jordan's case, an almost unlimited number of novels in the series).  My goal is to write one book and see how it goes, instead of putting the cart before the horse and worrying too much about future novels.  However, I very much want to tell my complete story, so I need to figure out what it will take to do that.

I do have a new idea, if I ever get there, for a future novel set in present day of an alternate future timeline.  The two main characters from FG have a daughter (Ma'at, goddess of justice), who joins forces with the surviving Set to oppose a coalition of tyranical gods.  If he can't rule the world, no one can!  Set and Ma'at may even find unlikely romance together in this world where Egypt is a major power, and the nations are ruled by the gods of each pantheon.  Basically, the genetic mutation that gave Egyptian gods their power has either spread through the gene pool or evolved separately.  Christianity, led by an immortal, reborn Jesus, struggles as an underground to fight these deities.  I'm not sure if I want to do the last part, but the idea is intriguing.
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mackknopf: (Default)
(Inspired by an entry from Seanan_Mcguire.)

I love summer, here in the land of air conditioners, college football training, ice cream from the store, and chlorinated swimming pools. I'll miss the "girls in their summer clothes", as Bruce Springsteen says. Then there were the childhood days spent at St. Augustine, Florida, with my cousins, full of tides, sunburns, and seashells found.

Summer in Alabama isn't for the weak. It's blasting-hot sun, lethal to some, so intense that I once dreamed an entire fantasy novel of solar-powered Egyptian gods up between June and August while taking law school classes. I like how just walking outside raises your pulse and makes you reach for the sunglasses, the way that the rays would vaporize you if you let them. But in the land of sweet ice tea, we cope and eat barbecue, grilled meat, fresh produce from the street markets.

Fall is nice. It has October, my favorite holiday of ghost stories, spooky movies on television, and gruesome decorations. It's a solitary holiday for me, though. November and Thanksgiving will be when family comes together.

Winter has its charms too, shuddering cold and bleak bareness that makes me want to drive a stake through its heart, killing the vampire who sucks the heat from my bones and won't let me go. No, I'm no fan of winter's charms. But there's an elemental purity in surviving it.

Spring is a beautiful girl trying on new clothes for the first time. Who doesn't like welcoming her? After the winter, she's a cheerful phoenix in green, life reborn from chilly ashes. 

But give me summer, always, the heat and fire and life, that shout out in light white to the world. Give me something to dream about, to treasure through the winter.
mackknopf: (Books)

I'm so suggestible.  Read one book about zombies before bed, and I'm sure to wake up from a nightmare somewhere in the middle of the night.  Eating a peanut butter and honey sandwich when my stomach growled around 1 a.m. probably didn't help.  Like Snoopy in the Charlie Brown episode where he eats five pizzas and a milkshake, then dreams he's a sled dog  in Alaska, I am prone to all sorts of weird imaginings after raiding the refrigerator post-midnight.

Last night I started reading Feed, by Mira Grant (the pen name for Seanan McGuire, author of the October Daye books).  It is an action-filled political zombie horror thriller.  Of course I dreamed I was fighting off zombies.  I remember thinking I didn't have any guns, and that my sword was going to be overwhelmed by the sheer mass of monsters.  Then I woke up and had to remind myself that as of yet there is no reanimation virus or dawn of the dead.

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mackknopf: (Movies)

I avoid giving away the plot twists as much as possible, but I do discuss anything shown in the preview, and I do tell what the basic premise is.  If spoilers show up, I'll use a "cut" so you have to deliberately click to see more.  Now allow me to preface with a quote from Chuang Tzu, ancient Chinese philosopher and Taoist:  "I dreamed I was a butterfly, flitting around in the sky; then I awoke.  Now I wonder: Am I a man who dreamt of being a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming that I am a man?"

If this mystery interests you, then you will probably like Christopher Nolan's movie "Inception".  For my part, I was mostly bored and waiting for it to end.  Movies, in my opinion, should not go on for three hours unless they are (say) on par with "Pirates of the Caribbean" and "Lord of the Rings".  What we have here is ostensibly a treatise on dreams, and your tolerance for that will depend on how much you are fascinated by them.  I take that back.  While I loved Neil Gaiman's work on "The Sandman" comic, and symbols and meanings of dreams always interest me, this movie is just not bizarre enough to feel like it truly is about dreams.

Possible spoilers this way )


mackknopf: (Movies)

I just watched "Something Left, Something Taken," a piece of short animation.  Click here to see it yourself.  This is a ten minute comedy, somewhat dark, about a couple on vacation who take a ride from the airport that may be going where they don't want to go.  It is written and designed by Max Porter and Ru Kuwahata.  The film is set in San Francisco, so I had to watch!  I still miss that city, as well as Berkeley (but not Oakland).

Roger Ebert recommended it on his Ebert Club Newsletter.  The newsletter is for paying members only, though it's a mere ten dollars per year.  I'm reposting the video because it had options to do so, and it's not proprietary to the club letter, which assembles links and footage of interesting previews, shows, shorts, and old movies.   I really enjoyed this video.  People who watch crime scene investigation shows like Bones or the CSI series may find an additional chuckle here.

mackknopf: (Weird)

It reminds me of a short story by Neil Gaiman called "Snow, Glass, Apples", publicly available here.  Neil's work is a dark little piece that turns the traditional fairy tale on its head.  Emily Short collaborated on an interactive fiction game that is also dark and deals with some of the same themes.  The game is called "Alabaster."  Go download it.  Please.  It's free, she wants you to read it.  In your heart of hearts that likes the chill of the night and the pleasant frisson of being just a little afraid, you want to read it too.  Is it hard?  No.  Can you play it over
again with enjoyment?  I think so.

What are interactive fictions, or IF to be concise?  They're games of make-believe where you see an environment only in words, where you respond by typing in more words.  Oh, that sounds tedious and complicated.  Look.  It's a game of words and mystery.  This one even has an introduction for people who've never played the type before.  Are there pictures?  A few.  Usually they're the sort you make in your head, but Alabaster has page illustrations. 

You might have heard of Zork, the Infocom company, or Adventure.  People have been writing them for decades, and there's even a little online community to support those who do.  I even tried writing such a game in elementary school at the computer lab.  Since I could barely program, I believe I got as far as sketching out the first few rooms.  (In words, mind you.  I never got to the programming part.)  I wanted to implement Alice in Wonderland as a text adventure game, but my imagination far outstripped my abilities then.  I've tried to choose better matches for my art and ability these days, though computer languages will likely never be a feather in my hat or a string to my bow.

Read more... )

mackknopf: (Justice)

For those who don't know, the United States Supreme Court recently ruled on the federal right to hold sex offenders after they have completed their sentence.  Now they can be held indefinitely if they are deemed dangerous.  For those who say, "So what?", consider that the definition of sex offender has changed dramatically in the past decade or so.  A 15-year-old girl with a 17-year-old boyfriend?  That boyfriend is now considered a sex offender.  Streaking, running naked without any clothes on?  Sex offense.  Also consider the very slippery slope we are on when a jail sentence that has been completed can be extended, not based on any new charges, but under a general feeling of "we just don't trust you and we don't want to let you out."  Sex offenders are already stringently punished and must report regularly to the authorities, as well as report any new changes of address.  If they can't find a place to stay within three days of leaving jail, they are re-imprisoned.  I don't think we're lax on these offenders, unless you think they can never serve enough time to pay for their crimes and can never be rehabilitated (which is an entirely separate question).  

The rationale of a "broad authority" by Congress to pass laws "rationally related" to constitutional goals will likely be used from this case to also mandate that people buy healthcare insurance, even though we've never forced people to pay for services directly before (aside from taxes).  The power of the federal government is being greatly expanded.  I'm also having second thoughts about the Obama healthcare plan in its present form, which I have so far been a strong supporter of.  When conservative Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas are the dissenting voices in favor of small government and Congress only having specifically enumerated powers, I feel queasy about aligning myself with them.  But I'm starting to feel some worry here.

Have I ever defended a sex offender as a lawyer in a criminal case?  Yes, and I would do so again, even if it made me uncomfortable.  Everybody, at least in America, deserves a fair trial and the right to be heard.  Allow me to leave you with a quotation from Martin Niemoller, German priest and activist who opposed Hitler:

First they came for the communists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a communist.
Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn't speak out because I wasn't a Jew.
Then they came for me
and there was no one left to speak out for me.


mackknopf: (Celtic Cross)
I wrote the beginnings of a novel, called False Gods, about two main characters, an ancient Egyptian reluctant temple scribe and an ardent temple priestess. The scribe, named Khamaat, believes in the gods only because he can't deny that they keep showing up on earth (well, in my book they do) and throwing their weight around.  He certainly doesn't think they're all-benevolent and suspects they're not always watching.  He finds out soon enough that they're not all-powerful, because they can be killed!  The other character, Mereyeta, fervently believes in everything the gods and culture have sold her on believing.  She eventually finds out that the gods are just people with amazing powers, and that they have lost their way, neglected their duties and upset the natural order.  To restore balance to the world, the two have to take up the powers of the deities for their own and struggle against the gods.

I don't know what they're ultimately going to wind up believing in, because I plotted the whole darn book, but I haven't finished writing it yet.  I think they'll probably wind up believing in a sort of natural law, a sense of universal balance, but not necessarily any afterlife or true higher power.  Then again, if I ever finish FG and write a sequel, I may address that issue, or I may just leave it up to the readers.  The point is, nobody really knows for sure what lies beyond the grave for real in my story.  Some have returned from "death," but not with any proof, just vague memories of visions.  Similarly, in the waking dream we call life, no one has shown me proof of an afterlife.  Even though I've seen a ghost.  After all, I don't know what really happened then.  Hmm.  There is a lot of me in those two characters.  I should start writing it again.

I read an article in the Birmingham News today criticizing Richard Dawkins, the famed atheist.  While I think he's a prosyletizer out to convert people to his way of thinking, which I innately distrust in any religion/way of thinking/political view, I disagreed with the critiquer and thought of my friend Lisa.  Of course someone can disbelieve in God and have an ethical system and be a good person.  You can also believe in a different type of god, or gods plural, and still be a good person, at least by my standards. However, if it turns out that only one particular type of God (say, the Judeo-Christian God) sends his followers to heaven, then everyone else is going to be up a creek and possibly in Hell, depending.  Let's hope not.

mackknopf: (Movies)
Chris Jones wrote a profile of film critic Roger Ebert in a recent Esquire magazine article.  It's not a hatchet job or a fanboy ovation.  It's a sincere, honest look at a man who has had suffering, but found his peace of mind.  For those who don't know, operations to save Ebert from cancer almost four years ago lost him his ability to eat solid food and to talk.  His lower jaw had to be removed.  With the faculty of speech lost, Ebert turned to writing to express himself, churning out prolific amounts of words both in his reviews and in his online journal.  For people who appreciate the writing or the man, the two of which are increasingly harder to separate these days, I recommend the article.   

In recent good news, Ebert is now able to somewhat speak with the aid of a computer that has had his recorded voice programmed into it.  It's a triumph of technology, and he made a public appearance using it on the Oprah Winfrey show.  It's not like having his true voice again, that can never be replaced, but it's a solid positive in his life, and he appears delighted about it.

"With all the publicity about me 'getting my voice back,' some people have the idea that a computer program has magically allowed me to speak again. That will never happen. I type, and the words come out. No one can type fast enough for conversational repartee. With the new software from Edinburgh the words will come out sounding like me. That's huge."

He's also planning to produce a new movie review show, with the occasional guest appearance.  I follow Ebert's work regularly and occasionally read his blog, but before the article, I had no idea of the strain he was under.  He's bearing up well, but as Ebert says, he's not surprised the profiler took an elegaic tone with the story.  I don't honestly know if I could find such peace if I believed there was nothing after death.  Sometimes I believe, sometimes I don't.  Most of the time I try not to think about it, to be stoically indifferent to the prospect.  But Roger Ebert hasn't found God, yet he's not afraid.

Below are excerpts from Chris Jones' article.  I know I was moved.

Read more... )


mackknopf: (Movies)

"Up in the Air", starring George Clooney, is the parable of a man who builds walls around him and who divests himself of anything he can't conveniently fit in a backpack or piece of luggage, like relationships.  The question the movie asks is whether he'll change and if he can, and what his choices teach the rest of us.  Clooney's character, Ryan Bingham, works for a company whose sole purpose is to be hired by other businesses to go around and fire people, because the owners of said businesses don't have the guts to do it. I assume the company is entirely made-up, because I hope there are no real-life services like that. You might find it traumatic or prophetic, depending on how you feel about the economy, and whether you're in danger of being laid off (or actually have been).  The screenplay is based on a book by Walter Kirn.  Many or most of the actors who are fired are people who had actually been laid off in real life, and who answered a casting call for a documentary.  They could either respond to the firing procedure as they actually did, or as they wished they had done.

The axe-men company temporarily grounds its employees under a new business model of firing through online real-time video chat. You put a laptop with Skype (or whatever) in the other company's office, and the axe-men company will fire them long-distance. Bingham says that this lacks humanity and the personal touch, and so is given a few weeks of travel back on the road to compare his approach with that of the inventor of the online method.  One of my friends said Clooney is a bloodless actor, but I disagree.  He gives a good performance in "Up in the Air" as a man who has built an emotional wall around himself, free of most relationships other than the very casual. The breaking and cracking of his fortress, however, and whether or not he rebuilds it, is what is so interesting about the movie. It's a story about modern human relationships more than anything else.

Clooney also comes across as a suave lady's man. The women here are devastating in their roles, though, and quite strong characters.  When he meets someone (Alex, played by Vera Farmiga) who describes herself as a counterpart of him, only with a vagina, the romantic interaction becomes fascinating.  The other, non-romantic, foil for Clooney is the younger woman, Natalie Keener as played by Anna Kendrick, who wants to fire people online.  She wants to be the new version of Ryan Bingham, only she has second thoughts over the course of the movie.

"Up in the Air" isn't quite a drama, satire, or comedy, though it partakes of all of those.  I highly recommend it. 

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