Sunday, April 30, 2006

3rd Edition Nation, 1st Edition Rules

Via Mythusmage I read about Maine resident and blogger Lance Dutson getting sued by Maine tourism advertising contractor, Warren Kremer Paino Advertising, for criticizing them and pointing out (correctly) that an advertisement they put together includes the number for a phone sex operation, and not the Maine tourism board.

Mr. Dutson is getting sued for a few million dollars it seems. Fortunately, it looks like he's going to get some help in defending against this.

Since there seems to be bi-partisan loathing for this sort of thing, and "loser pays", like in the UK, seems to be the solution, does anyone know why we don't have that here in the U.S.?

I've heard occasionally that "loser pays" is too corporate friendly, but has it actually worked out that way in the UK?

In fact, a lot of things in the U.S. feel a bit like we're still playing Brown Box Dungeons & Dragons or running Windows 3.1, while the rest of the democracies have moved on:

  • no instant run offs for presidential elections creating all these unpleasant situations where you're not voting for your actual first choice
  • the quaint artefact of congressional districts, even though you likely work, live, and go to school in three different ones -- honestly, it seems their entire function is to facilitate gerrymandering and promote budget deficits via pork.

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Now I have a machine gun. Ho ho ho.

When interest started trickling in on THE SOUND, it was spread out over a few weeks. Nonetheless it was three option offers, albeit from small places. That kind of scenario is ideal of course, but I had no means of fully exploiting it since I suck at negotiation. What benefit I did gain was the ability to be more indecisive and drag my feet about things -- to which people would react by offering me a little more.

One of the terrific fringe benefits of working with the producers on THE SOUND is that they hooked me up with a great entertainment attorney (Gordon Firemark) who'd do the work on what little commission I could generate.

To paraphrase another action film, an attorney... is like a warm blanket.

An option offer came in on one of my recent bits of darkness and, despite the smallness of the project, Gordon went right to work looking over the contract, making sure to look out for things that I wouldn't even realize had to be looked out for, and taking over the haggling.

To make things even better, now a second company is going to make an option offer. This company is a little bit larger (but, at the small level I'm working at, almost anyone can have solid enough connections to get a movie like this financed) and one can only benefit from having alternatives.

But, what inspired using the quote in the title was when I realized that this time around I'd have someone on my team who had the ability to make the most of this situation -- and that made me feel like John McClane.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Truth in Advertising Must Suck

I ran across the web-ad to the right while meandering today and thought how much the people paying for that must hate the requirement to include the line:

Simulated images, not actual photos

That's tantamount to saying that your results will look so much worse than this, that we'd rather show you something that you know is a lie.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

The Renegade Province Reloaded

Everyone can stop being angry about the U.S. kissing China's ass, and instead be angry about U.S. civil servants being half-assed.

Jaru called one of her Taiwanese friends who has a Green Card and discovered that it should say Taiwan, Republic of China, after all. She then verified by calling in and finally got someone to admit it -- we had to tell the civil servant that we had kidnapped their Rottweiler first though to motivate them to actually do something.

So now we'll fill out yet more forms...

When we went in to finalize her permanent resident status we had to set up an appointment online. We then show up at the appropriate time and they give us a number. About two hours later it's us and one old lady sitting in an empty lounge while people mop the floor. I go and remind the people that we exist, because that apparently wasn't clear from our sitting there right in front of all the civil servants in an otherwise empty room. Finally, a person makes a big fuss about how they'll take care of this then takes our form -- making sure to let us know how great a favor this service is. That part took about 15 minutes.

Personally, I believe the public's experience with the Department of Motor Vehicles, and places like the Department of Homeland Security are the single greatest threat to the U.S. getting public healthcare.

But it shouldn't have to be that way. The U.S. Postal Service had a terrible reputation when I was young (in the 70s or so). But nowadays the USPS is terrific. The offices are quick and helpful. Delivery is fast. and you have a bunch of options in how to mail things.

I wonder if it has something to do with the fact that the USPS has some competition in the form of email, UPS, and FedEx? The commercial places might make the USPS work harder, and the USPS might keep the commercial companies' prices down and services up.

That makes me wonder if other public and private programs could benefit from similar competiton. For instance, if people could choose between a public healthcare program, or our current crop of private ones, could that make the overall system more efficient? One benefit of the public system would be that it could help standardize what are considered reasonable medical treatments and reasonable costs -- and private providers would then be able to point to the standard treatments to avoid malpractice, while they'd have to compete with the costs to maintain their business.

If I remember correctly from talking with Dan, Australia has a public healthcare system augmented by private insurance -- though I think that's more of a "by spending extra bucks you get better service or greater protections" system instead of what I'm envisioning.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Bad Writers, Good Stories

  1. is
  2. can be said
  3. is
  4. has
  5. had
  6. turned
  7. nudged
  8. sits
  9. has
  10. used

Those are the first ten verbs from a novel I recently read (The Straw Men). More specifically, read and finished -- unlike a number of other novels that I began reading and quit about one third to halfway into.

This novel had four main characters, a female cop in her 30s I figure, then three men. All men were about the age of 40. One was an ex-cop, one ex-CIA, and one current-CIA. Making one of them, I don't know, a Japanese tree surgeon, would have helped me keep them distinct.

This novel, despite its fascination with passive voice, and way too similar characters held me all the way through, whereas I struggled to get to one-third in Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrel, with its eloquent language, quirky people, and glowing recommendation from Neil Gaiman.

The thing The Straw Men had for me was pull-through. In part that came from the cheap, but effective tactic of using short chapters and ending them with nice little cliff-hangers.

But I think the real trick came from the writer's ability to regularly bring in surprising twists and reversals. They came along just often enough to keep me going -- and when they hit I'd want to stick around a bit longer to see the consequences of this new state of affairs.

And one thing I worry about is that when I comment on others' writing, or see comments on a story, that too often the pull-through part is not discussed, in favor of talking about mechanics or intricacies of character. And, while one's skill at prose and characterization are important, none of that will get you anywhere if you don't generate enough pull-through to get the reader through the novel.

Dan Brown seems to receive an abnormally large volume of criticism from writers on the internet for being an awful hack. And what worries me about this, is that it implies that these writers drastically undervalue the ability to create pull-through -- as if maintaining suspense and surpising the reader were easy or cheap.

But that's a huge part of storytelling, right up there with richness of characters and important or interesting ideas. Frankly, I think even more important than richness of characters. We've got plenty of enduring myths about one-dimensional gods and characters.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Is Lou Dobbs a Parody?

Continuing from this recent bit of oddness, just now Lou Dobbs opened his program with a special report on The War on the Middle Class --

-- this time focusing on how the increase in gas prices is one of the fronts in this war.

The segment opens with a reporter (Louise Schiavone, see towards the top of this transcript) in the field interviewing an average American casualty of this war on the middle class. This guy was in the process of receiving his Purple Heart at a gas station, where the price per gallon was about $3 --

-- which meant he had to pay $47 to fill the tank on his awfully new looking Cadillac.

I'm serious. The producers actually chose a 30-something looking guy paying $47 to fill up what was at most a 2-year-old Cadillac as their example of the cost of this war.

They even included a snazzy graphic telling the viewers that the guy spent $47. Honestly, The Colbert Report could just run that clip straight.

One might suspect that a segment focusing on a guy who, due to the roughly 10% gas price increase, has to sacrifice an extra $20 to $40 out of his $8,000+ monthly salary, was actually produced by OPEC.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Too Foo-Foo

In this article a woman called Paige Ferrari criticizes Gwyneth Paltrow for being too foo-foo.

No. I'm afraid that if you had the misfortune to be named Paige Ferrari by your parents and didn't change it, or somehow managed to get the judge to stop laughing long enough to choose the name for yourself, you don't have the right to criticize anyone or anything. Ever.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

An Ugly Road to Mideast Peace?

It looks like Iran is going to end up with a nuclear arsenal. Certainly, if they wanted one, within the next three years is the time to do it. My guess is that, if this were likely to happen, Israel would start advertising its nuclear arsenal as a fait accompli as well--then proceed to build up the kind of ridiculously large stockpile of weapons that these things seem to accompany.

The odd side effect of this is that it might be the only thing that succeeds at stabilizing the area. We don't have much of a track record from which to collect evidence in this regard, but the emerging situation between India and Pakistan at least indicates that the Cold War wasn't an anomaly, and was instead a natural result of nuclear stand-offs.

These two texts, Fearful Symmetry and The Spread of Nuclear Weapons argue toward that, but, man, I wouldn't want to live downwind of these places.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Writing Novels

A friend from grad school, Sarah, is currently going through the trials of getting her novels published, and she's discussing how that's working out in her blog.

It occurred to me that some people visiting here might be trying out fiction writing, or considering doing so in the future. If so, I think you'll find reading her blog informative since she's discussing the process as she goes along.

Sarah's near the epicenter of U.S. publishing in New York, so she blogs often about literary agents, editors, and the needs of book publishers, as well as writing seminars and genre writers' conventions -- all very informative if you're looking to take a stab at novel writing.

She recently bemoaned the rule of no simultaneous submissions to editors -- which always annoyed the bejeezus out of me. Though, given the quality of my first novel, that rule probably shielded me from receiving a mass of embarassingly vehement rejection letters.

Anyway, she also points out that, in general, the no simulataneous submissions rule does not apply to literary agents -- very useful to remember!

Friday, April 07, 2006

Ten Verbs

Richard at Scriptweaver tagged me with Brett's First Ten Verbs meme and I figured I'd get this posted fast and tag the others before I've got no-one left to tag.

What are the first ten verbs in whatever project you are now or were most recently writing?

Also, I'm not horribly embarassed by my list. I'd like to point out that this whole using-verbs-in-sentences thing is as optional as the clothing at our house. Sometimes I'll go 4 or 5 lines before I've got a subject or verb going there.

This is from my most recent one, TUMOROUS:

  1. belches
  2. slicks
  3. strews
  4. press
  5. smoke
  6. winds
  7. marches
  8. hums
  9. pass
  10. glints

As you might guess, it starts in New Jersey (sorry folks back east!). But hey, at least New Jersey inspires active voice and employs a wider spectrum of language.

I'll tag Konrad, Dave, and reward Scott for posting here for the first time, assuming there's a website where he posts and won't feel too goofy answering the meme.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

The Renegade Province

Jaru (my wife) got her permanent resident card just a couple weeks back. That's a long, annoying process, but finally done!

She's from Taiwan, aka the Renegade Province, official name: Republic of China

-- not People's Republic of China.

These distinctions can lead to many headaches down at the post office.

Anyway, her green card comes and everything looks great, then we see her country of birth: China, People's Republic of

Some sighing ensues -- mostly at the prospect of yet again dealing with the Department of Motor Vehicles-esque efficiency and charm of the Department of Homeland Security. But first Jaru will call and figure out how to handle this --

-- and then discovers that there's nothing to handle. The helpful voice on the other end of the line says that her card is correct. She was born in the People's Republic.

If you get my drift...

EDIT: Update -- Apparently the answer to all this is a little more mundane, but perhaps equally depressing.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Don't Rent DVDs From My Video Store

You know how you rent DVDs and they almost always have odd little smears and smudges on them, like the previous renter used them to spread peanut butter on their sandwich?

Well, this DVD I rented had a few minor smudges, so I decided to wipe it off -- but we're a clothing optional house here with the option typically being "no" so I didn't have a handy shirt to wipe it off with.

I did, however, purchase some sparkly white brand new underwear on Sunday, and since I was wearing them...