On literary censorship in Hong Kong:
For a while I've been trying to figure out how to get the Movies and Books sections of this site to have alpha-sorted listings with library-style alphabetization — in other words, so that titles starting with "A/An/The" don't get sorted on those words. I thought about creating a plugin to do this, since there's no native sort order of that variety in Movable Type, but instead I went with a template solution. It's not all that slow, and since I have these alpha indexes built in the background, it doesn't matter.
I created a template with two loop blocks:
<mt:Entries><mt:setvarblock name="mytitle">''<mt:EntryBasename regex="s/^(a|an|the)_(.*)/$2/gi" />''|<mt:EntryID></mt:setvarblock><mt:setvar function="push" name="myarray" value="$mytitle"/></mt:Entries>
<mt:loop name="myarray" sort_by="value">
<mt:setvarblock name="itemid"><mt:var name="__value__" regex="s/''(.*)?''\|(.*)/$2/gi"></mt:setvarblock>
<mt:entries id="$itemid" limit="1">
<$mtinclude module="Entry Listing"$>
The first loop block (the mt:Entries block) creates a list of all the available entries for the category in question, transforms them with a regex so that the name has "A/An/The" stripped out, combines the name with its entry ID in a consistent way that's easy for a regex to re-extract, and builds an array out of them. The elements in the array look like this:
''28 Days Later''|2187
''A Time To Live And A Time To Die''|2402
The second loop takes the array, sorts it, extracts the ID number for the entry, and uses that to generate all the relevant information about the entry (its real name, for instance). The Entry Listing module is an include I used to display the entry name and some additional data (e.g., whether or not there's video on the web available for it).
I was originally going to use a hashtable instead of an array, but this turned out to be easier for me to wrap my head around at this stage of the game.
NOTE: In the above code examples I've inserted linebreaks for readability. I strongly recommend stripping those out before using this in a production environment.
Those of you with LiveJournal accounts probably heard about the recent little (cough) issue they had where a piece of cross-site scripting malware started trashing people's posts and infecting folks by jumping from one friend's list to the other.
Frankly, at first, I thought it was my own damn fault. I use a custom MT script to post to LJ, and I was worried that — along with my MT installation — had gotten infected.
I don't know who to blame more: LJ, the browser makers, or the scum who concoct such vile things; for this they deserve to have their fingers yanked off and fed to the Choking Doberman. (I give the LJ admins credit for owning up to this being someone's malicious code, and not trying to spin it as the botched rollout for some goofus feature or other.)
I do know this is a perfect example of why I don't trust the Web. Not in the sense that I won't use it for anything (I mean, durr, I have a blog), but that I don't trust it — I don't assume the people on the other end know best, or even half the time know what's going on. I use LJ as an echo account for exactly this reason — it's not something I rely on for anything. At least with my own blog I have a smidge more control and can exercise that much more under-the-hood scrutinousness.
And people wonder why I hate Facebook and Twitter, too.
Tags: epic win
My NYAF report is up at AMN — and it's the last piece I'm doing for them of that size. After this the only things I'll be writing for them are reviews of material that I was already covering (like Black Jack), but no new series. I'm going to be focusing on building up Genji Press — both the site and the books under that imprint.
On a side note, I found a good way to deal with uploading a whole slew of images to Flickr without driving yourself bonkers.
1. Install the Flickr Uploadr utility, if you haven't already.
2. (Optional but useful) Set Uploadr to resize everything to, say, 1600 pixels across.
3. Open images in an image browser that has some kind of right-click Open With shell-integration function. Windows Live Photo Gallery is just about perfect for this (and was what I used for this whole process).
4. Browse. When you get to an image you like, right-click on it and select Open With, and then select Uploadr as the target.
5. Each image selected in this fashion will be added to the current batch of Flickr images, and you can then go back to the image browser app without losing context.
This way you don't have to go back and forth between the browser and the Uploadr, and can upload tons of images much more efficiently.
I've been moderating, or helping moderate, a couple of Internet communities for about ten years now. From very early on we had to find a way to deal with people who did a flamenco dance with the rules.
You've seen this before, I'm sure. They'd stomp right up to the line, clash their heels together next to it, make a lot of noise, and then dance away again before getting thrown off. And they'd do this again and again, with just enough time between incidents to allow even the hottest tempers to cool down.
Unfortunately for them, we took notes. We let our note-taking be our elephant's memory and remind us that these guys were old hands at disturbing the peace. It didn't take Solomon to see they were rather nihilistic in their behavior: they just wanted to get people on their side, throw their bombs and run. Never mind if everything else burned, including things they themselves had to work for (inasmuch as people like that worked for anything, and didn't simply demand it).
I grew quickly familiar with their playbook. I grew even more quickly tired of it. They attacked rules that had been set up for the populace's general benefit. They suggested unworkable alternatives, and then threw fits when they didn't get their way. They staged demonstrations of solidarity for oppressed brethren (really stupid when you realize they were talking about a chatroom and not, say, lunch-counter segregation). Most annoying was the smirking insinuation, the "I'm just saying"-style innuendo where they could say something inflammatory (and even claim credit for being inflammatory amongst their peers) without ever having to take the real brunt of the responsibility for having said it.
They loved using passive-aggressive tactics to their advantage. The most infuriating for me was the "I'm just saying" ploy — or sometimes, "I'm just asking". No, you are never just asking. You are asking, period, and if you ask, an answer may well come. Sometimes that answer will not be what you want to hear. But if you can't deal with that, then for god's sake, don't play this game.
I soon learned the definition of the word casuistry outside of a theological context. For those of you who just reached for the dictionary, it's when you use what looks like heavy logic to mislead people. The casuistrists-in-training posted more than one multi-'graf screed about this or that to the main message board — never because they actually wanted to broaden the discussion, always with the express purpose of getting us to do something intemperate. Somehow we managed not to blow our stacks at this tripe, if only because we knew that would put us in the same class as them.
Eventually most of the worst offenders and their yes-men were kicked off for keeps, or got sick of us not rising to their fight and stormed off in a huff. And then by some amazing coincidence, the amount of internecine conflict throughout the site dropped to almost zero.
What I couldn't stand most about those folks was not even the way they baited authority — that's something we all do at some point, I guess, and then grow out of. What I resented most was the way every argument — especially arguments that needed to be had, that were vitally important to the community — were turned by them into dishonest ploys. They were ruining chances for other people, perfectly good people, to ask the same questions without passive-aggressive front-loading ("I'm just asking") and get straight answers. They also made it very difficult to flat-out boot them without having their cronies erupt in screams of "censorship" or "oppression", two words I have seen abused so thoroughly that they now carry almost no weight outside of a historical context.
I don't mind an argument. It's an argument in bad faith that I hate. Or, as my experience showed, an argument in no faith at all.
... what you think you're conveying with your words isn't necessarily what the reader's apprehending. That's the whole reason for giving your story to some beta readers before you send it out into the wide world — they test it out for you, and you can tell from their reaction whether your words did what you wanted them to do.
For a long time, this was easily the worst problem I had as a writer, hands down. I was trying so hard to be "subtle" and not do things that I thought amounted to clobbering the reader over the head that I wound up conveying no useful information to them at all.
Them: "I didn't get it."
Me: "What's not to get?"
Me: "Um — wait. How could you not see that XXX was YYY and ZZZ?"
Them: "Because you didn't put it on the page."
And after I finished sulking and assuming they were Idiots Who Didn't Appreciate Me, I'd re-read and see they were right. Whatever it was I had been meaning to say had somehow gone unsaid the whole time. Saying just enough is far harder than saying nothing or everything. Fortunately that's why there are these things called rewrites.
Although, again, it took yet another bit of painful growing-up to actually want to go back to things I'd written and polish them. It was very easy, for a long time, to be ruled by the impulse to just dash on ahead and never look back because it was simply too awful to see how badly I'd screwed up.
I'm surrounded by shelves in here, but there sits to my immediate right a shelf which is specifically for books that I have read and which I have yet to write about. As of right now, it looks like this:
Some of the books in that pile have been there for a dismayingly long time. Red Colored Elegy, Sayonara Gangsters, and especially The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa — I've been trying to find something coherent to say about them for months now, and every time I've opened up a document and started to type, all that's come out has been either babbling fanboy gush or meandering jargon.
It's far harder to say something meaningful about a work you admire enormously, or which demands that you drop some of your typical defenses and approach the work on new terms. And sometimes you just come up empty: I've been trying to write something good about the other Yoko Tsuno books for a long time (sorry, Cinebook, I'll do it soon, I promise!), and each time I come up with something I end up deep-sixing it out of shame. Not good enough, I tell myself. Too trite, too contrarian, too this or too that. I also hate doing capsule reviews (probably gonna be my undoing) — there just doesn't feel like much that can be said in a graf without being redundant.
What I've found is best, ironically enough, is not to think very much about the process beforehand. Put the book in front of you, open Word, type something. Roll forward from there. Maybe the fifth graf will become the first one, it doesn't matter. As long as something is coming out, you can shape it.
I'm curious about the way people create obstructions in their minds. I suspect over the last couple of years I've built up a resistance of sorts to being casual and chatty about the work I love, because I feel like that doesn't do justice to it. I hated Twitter and Facebook for those reasons: they forced you to reduce everything to blurbs and one-liners. Conversations are reduced to countercharges. I've resisted this kind of talk for a long time because it seems to make nuance impossible. On the other hand, it also makes for splendid blurbsmanship, the art of which is hard to ignore when everyone else's time is what you need most.
Those of you interested in the Summer of the Ubume should check out this terrific overview of the series — and its attendant movie(s), and its anime adaptation! — over at Iwa ni Hana. Note that there are some spoilers, so if you haven't read the books yet, you may want to just glance at the images and take in the first graf or two for flavor.
From AICN Anime:
Four classic works of Japanese literature will be adapted into the 12-episode Aoi Bungaku (Blue Literature) anime television series, set to premier on October 10.
Manga artist Takeshi Obata (Death Note) is involved with the anime versions of Osamu Dazai's No Longer Human (Ningen Shikkaku) and Soseki Natsume's Kokoro.
Obata also drew the illustrations of Ryunosuke Akutagawa's Hell Screen (Jigoku Hen), but Bleach manga creator Tite Kubo will be involved with the anime version of that novel.
Manga creator Takeshi Konomi (The Prince of Tennis) will be involved with Dazai's Run, Melos! (Hashire Melos), which was already made into a 1981 animated television special and a 1992 animated film.
Akira Kurosawa. Criterion. A box set.
The Bad Sleep Well (1960), Dodes'ka-den (1970), Drunken Angel (1948), The Hidden Fortress (1958), High and Low (1963), I Live in Fear (1955), The Idiot (1951), Ikiru (1952), Kagemusha (1980), The Lower Depths (1957), Madadayo (1993), The Men Who Tread on the Tiger's Tail (1945 - new to DVD), The Most Beautiful (1944 - new to DVD), No Regrets for Our Youth (1946), One Wonderful Sunday (1947), Rashomon (1951), Red Beard (1965), Sanjuro (1962), Sanshiro Sugata (1943 - new to DVD), Sanshiro Sugata, Part II (1944 - new to DVD), Scandal (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), Stray Dog (1949), Throne of Blood (1957) and Yojimbo (1961)
Notice anything missing?
It's worth noting that of the Kurosawa's complete filmography, only The Quiet Duel (1949), Dersu Uzala (1975), Ran (1985), Dreams (1990) and Rhapsody in August (1991) are missing from this set. The U.S. release rights to each is owned by other studios as follows: The Quiet Duel (BCI/Eclipse), Dersu Uzala (Kino), Ran (Wellspring/Genius Products/now Vivendi??), Dreams (Warner) and Rhapsody in August (MGM). All are currently available on DVD separately.
Methinks the whole fiasco of Ran on Blu-ray is turning into a textbook example of how a creative work can become nothing more than a shuttlecock to be bounced back and forth between various corporate concerns. Greenwich/Herald, Orion, Fox, FoxLorber, Wellspring, Weinstein, Studio Canal, Vivendi ... break out the Dramamine.
How's this for a hook? A manuscript by C.G. Jung, long unseen, is now finally appearing in print and may change forever the way Jungian psychology has been conducted and considered.
Color me wildly curious. The pricetag is rather prohibitive, but my wife and I are both fascinated by it. Maybe we can split the tab between us...
It's been a slightly frustrating week, technologically speaking. But the frustrations have balanced out nicely.
Problem #1: The fan on my notebook died.
This wouldn't be so bad if it weren't brand-new — a Sony VGN-CS160J which I bought back in January or so.
I've generally been happy with the quality of Sony's hardware: this is the fifth notebook I've purchased by them. The first was in 2002, when my then-already-ancient Dell-clone book suffered a header and the display cracked. Said Sony lasted four years, and was only replaced when the hinge on the display started to go (along with the display wiring). My wife liked what she saw and bought the next-largest model. That machine is still running, although she's since bought a replacement for it as well.
I fired up Sony's help page and found a note posted last week about issues with the fan on the CS series. Plus this little gem:
As a part of our commitment to quality, for any customer who requires replacement of the cooling fan due to this issue, Sony will provide a free repair for an additional 12 months beyond the standard limited 12 month warranty (24 months total) for fan replacement.
H'm! says I. I called the repair center. They found my information in a trice, took down the machine's service tag number, and put me in the queue to set up a repair appointment.
I've been impressed with the quality of Sony's customer care before, but everything I'm seeing from them now has been superlative. Their notebooks may be that much pricier, but they wear like iron and you get treated like an actual customer when you have a problem.
If all goes well I might have the notebook fixed in time for NYAF, which would be downright spiffy.
Problem #2: A new drive on my PC was behaving strangely.
A friend of mine sent over a gift of a couple of spare drives: a 1 TB and a 500 GB drive. The actual drive-cloning and installation process was a snap (some more notes about that here), and I got booted back up and running in no time.
Then I heard it: click-click-click.
I'd heard sounds like that before, from a pair of 160GB Western Digital drives that turned out to be defective and had to be RMAed. Any drive that makes a click that sounds like insects slamming themselves against a window is either on the verge of death or suffering from some kind of transient defect that you don't want coming between you and your data. SMART stats came up empty, as did the system log. (I've since found that such things are almost worthless when it comes to diagnosing the kinds of things that can really kill a drive.)
There was a 2nd 1 TB drive in the same carton, originally intended for another friend. I dug that one out, imaged the original over to it, and booted it. No clicking.
My friend is sending me a replacement. So far he's competing neck-and-neck with Sony in the customer care department.
Lars von Trier's Antichrist (trailer here) is turning out to be this year's Irreversible — the movie you hate or love, or love to hate, or hate loving because you love what it hates showing you so lovingly in such hateful detail.
[... I pause for a moment while contemplating the fact that I just typed all that with a straight face.]
I'm really not sure what to make of von Trier. I've seen Breaking the Waves and Dancer in the Dark, and could not bring myself to write coherent reviews of either of them. They were both masterfully made — "well-made" has become one of those praising with faint damnation type of remarks — but they were so determined to get an emotional reaction, any reaction, that they didn't care if the reaction was aimed at the movie, at von Trier, at whatever. I resented that, because under von Trier's spurious emotional attacks I suspected there were some pretty good movies.
There was also a good deal of the M word, misogyny, being thrown around. This I find hard to swallow, if only because I think the most unapologetically misogynist films I've seen are the ones that have contempt for women while pretending not to — Sex and the City, or The Devil Wears Prada, are two of the big contenders. (Something tells me I'm going to end up writing an essay about that before too long.)
I'm faintly surprised, then, that I'm looking forward to Antichrist. Not because I'm a masochist and enjoy subjecting myself to emotional violence, but because for all his flaws von Trier is at least following his own muse even if it leads him clean off a cliff. I'd rather see someone fail spectacularly than play it safe ... as long as they don't use that as an excuse to turn in inferior work.
Today's bit o' the dharma: Inspiration is perspiration. Anyone who waits around for lightning to strike — instead of say, getting their butt outside during a thunderstorm — is kidding themselves.
... One does not produce a web comic two days a week for two and a half years by awaiting inspiration. One does not do hundreds of illustrations in three months for one’s book by awaiting inspiration. One just works until one’s brain is numb.
Here’s the other thing I find about inspiration: most of the time, it’s not enough. ... I suspect this is where a lot of wanna-be writers say something to the effect of “the muse has left me” and are distracted by a new bright shiny idea which drags them down another three or eight chapters before petering out.
You can’t do that, as a professional. You’ve got to be able to finish the work even when you’re tired of it.
There were days when I did not want to look at Tokyo Inferno, because I did not know how to face it at all. I felt like I had gotten myself into something too obscure to handle properly. I also knew the best way to tackle that was to do the research needed, and maybe make some mistakes along the way. Someday the mistakes I didn't catch on my own will be pointed out to me, and I'll fix them, and that'll be that.
But one way or another, I got it done. I finished it, cleaned it up, printed it, put it out there. I'd done it four other times before. There was nothing stopping me from doing it again, was there? Well, other than the fact that it's always easy to distract yourself.
Do I need to say anything else? Other than that the movie itself is classic.
Courtesy of Tanya Huff; file this one under tough love. The whole thing is worth reading; the excerpts are just what caught my attention the most.
The tone of the piece is, admittedly, on the snide side — but after having my own time wasted by wannabes, I empathize completely with the position he takes.
[Here is] an ugly truth about many aspiring screenwriters: They think that screenwriting doesn't actually require the ability to write, just the ability to come up with a cool story that would make a cool movie. Screenwriting is widely regarded as the easiest way to break into the movie business, because it doesn't require any kind of training, skill or equipment. Everybody can write, right? And because they believe that, they don't regard working screenwriters with any kind of real respect. They will hand you a piece of inept writing without a second thought, because you do not have to be a writer to be a screenwriter.
... It rarely takes more than a page to recognize that you're in the presence of someone who can write, but it only takes a sentence to know you're dealing with someone who can't.
(By the way, here's a simple way to find out if you're a writer. If you disagree with that statement, you're not a writer. Because, you see, writers are also readers.)
As you can guess, this applies to far more than just screenwriting. As someone in the comments said, "the more hopeless the would-be-writer is, the worst they take the news." (The comments, by the way, are divided between people applauding Josh for speaking truth to idiots, and the idiots who think Josh wrote this article because he's a blowhard who wants to show off the size of his reading pile. Or the idiots who think Josh is a hack because he gasp ADAPTED SOMEONE ELSE'S WORK shudder.)
I always felt the current political spectrum of conservative-to-progressive made little sense. Let's organize it this way: on one side, you have the folks who actually want to talk about the issues in an informed way, broker compromises, move things forward. On the other, you have the people who seem to take pride in being stupid as furniture, who measure their value in how much noise they can make and not in what actual policies they can get enacted, who don't want to be told anything they don't already think they know.
Von Trier's original intention, it's said, was to reveal at the end that the world was created by Satan, not God: That evil, not goodness, reigns ascendant. His finished film reflects the same idea, but not as explicitly. The title "Antichrist" is the key. This is a mirror world. It is a sin to lose Knowledge rather than to eat of its fruit and gain it.
Those of you who haven't gotten that far into Berserk yet (the manga, that is) might not understand how this fits together. Google for a wiki entry or three, and you'll get the answer — although, by Miura's own admission, the whole thing is a bit of a spoiler.
One other thing that does come to mind: do Miura or von Trier subscribe to the worldview portrayed? It's hard to determine if Miura does; he's not as much of a publicity hound as von Trier. Come to think of it, that right there might be our answer. It also brought to mind this comment from the above:
when Bergman declared God a spider I believed him with all my heart. When the bells rang at the end of Breaking The Waves I felt like he was smirking at me.
On the plus side ...
Being screwed out of a table (my fault, really) only slowed me down a little bit. Things got significantly better after Ronni Katz, the fine lady who was my table-neighbor last year, showed up. She cheerfully agreed to share space with me this year, and so I set up shop and started selling.
By Saturday night Tokyo Inferno was completely sold out, and many copies of Weekend and Summerworld also flew out of my hands. Pravi (my brother from another motherland [Canada]) grabbed a copy of everything and handed me a $50 that I don't think I'm going to end up breaking until I go to the bank.
Detroit Metal City seemed to be the predominant theme this weekend. Aside from watching a few episodes of it the first night — the show is funny enough that I gagged on my own tongue more than once — R2 and Ally and the rest of the LARP crew spent most of Saturday afternoon getting DMC costumes on, and attracting more than a little attention. The photos speak for themselves.
We also caught a screening of the live-action movie, which was a pretty good feature-length reduction of most of the ideas in the comic and the show. The Gene Simmons cameo is way too short, though — I badly wanted to see him deliver that deathless line "This music's so gay I can barely keep my eyes open." Expect the whole thing Stateside a little later this year, I think.
Since most of my time was spent manning the table, and my budget's been kept correspondingly tight, I didn't spend a great deal of cash on anything. A pin here, a couple of books there (one for the flight home). I dropped most of my actual cash supply on food — which is next to impossible not to do, since when you're at the hotel you're a captive audience and they can gouge you as they see fit. (Eight bucks for a bowl of soup? Cue Bill Cosby's rant about the cost of an egg in Las Vegas.)
Folks at the booth directly across from me had an Evangelion pachinko machine.
The best parts: The interviews. (Links coming.)
Another interview, with Greg Ayres, was cancelled — he'd either left the con early or ... well, at this point I could just quote rumors, but that's crass. File under: No Idea What Happened.
The LARP was kicked to Sunday night, but more than worth waiting for. A wonderful time was had by all.
The general tone for my flight out to Dallas was set when I struggled into the restroom at the tail of the plane and tried to get Business Done, only to be interrupted by someone jiggling the door handle.
"I'm in here!" I called out.
The door handle continued jiggling violently. I regretted that I have no extra appendages with which to jiggle the thing back. so I raised my voice: "I'm in here!"
The door handle continued jiggling and then the door rattled in its frame, as if — no, not "as if", the idiot on the other side was indeed trying to yank the door open anyway. That or pick the lock.
"WAIT YOUR TURN!" I shouted as loud as I could.
Yank yankity yank yank clatter.
I finally gave up (concentration's shot, can't do anything now), climbed out, and shot the old man standing there the meanest stare I could muster. Hearing aids in both ears. Deaf as a tree stump, most likely. I've been told I have the patience of several saints rolled into one, but at that point the saints had all gone marching out.
The airplane A/C was cranked up brutally high. By the time we made our descent, I felt like someone had been shoving slivers of ice into my sinuses with a funnel rammed up my nose.
The guy two rows behind me was playing with his iPhone 's GPS and accelerometer while we were landing. (Yet another in the endless list of reasons why I despise iPhones: they attract idiot users like fluorescent lighting fixtures draw flies.)
The business center at the Hyatt was out of stamps. Nope, they didn't have a postage meter either. I gave them the package I needed mailed along with $5 to cover the cost of getting it properly stamped. Now watch it come back to me because the date on the international mailing label is wrong or something stupid like that.
The in-room coffee tasted weirdly foul. The coffee packets didn't appear to have date stamps on them, but I suspected they were stale.
Post-travel inventory: one splitting headache, one runny nose, and a few new cusswords in my vocabulary.
... On the plus side, the shuttlebus driver was a real sweetheart.
Some key bits of news courtesy of AICN Anime:
Kodansha will be releasing Akira and Ghost in the Shell this fall. Dark Horse lost the rights to those titles a little while back, and I'd heard Kodansha was just going to release them domestically on their own — a good idea, since Dark Horse's localization of the former was apparently an English-relettered printing of a French translation. DH had a very good version of the latter out domestically, but I'm curious to see what the new version will be like and can probably compare notes. My guess is this will be cross-licensed through Del Rey but don't bank on it.
The live-action Akira is also back on the slate. I'm not holding my breath, even if the script is by Mark Fergus and Hawk Ostby, they of Children of Men. For the dozenth time, people, why remake something that isn't exactly in need of it?
Speaking of which, the Blu-ray of Ghost in the Shell 2.0 — the remastered version of the original film with new FX &c — just went up for pre-order. It's $20, which is a stupefyingly good price for such a piece of work.
Hm: "Death Note's Takeshi Obata is creating the designs for an anime adaptation of an unnamed 'literary masterpiece.'" I have no idea what that could be, but count me in anyway. Random guess: Tale of Genji? There was one such adaptation before, but it's only slightly less difficult to find than Ambrose Bierce's heat signature.
Ryū Murakami weighs in on Japan's belated coming-of-age:
In other news, I opted out of the Google Books settlement. Read why here.