Jul 09

Head off

There’s a state park in Maine called “Quoddy Head.”

That’s a good insult. I think I’ll start calling people “Quoddy heads.”

“That the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard. Shut up, you quoddy head!”

I like it.

Jul 08

Propped

Every time I encounter it and no matter how many times I do, I am surprised at how much privacy and freedom Americans are willing to surrender for just a little more convenience – and at the same time scoff as exaggeration at the documented and verified depredations on their lives and freedoms caused by ubiquitous surveillance, DRM, corporate overreach and the like.

I hate to say this, but it seems almost as if they want to be oppressed, as if they wear it as some sort of badge of honor. I was reading this comment thread about Microsoft’s SkyDrive when it hit me again just how pervasive and pernicious this line of thought is. Anyone who objected to Microsoft having access to data that they should not, and then sharing it willy-nilly with the NSA, was pretty consistently downvoted.

Note that this isn’t speculation. It is documented and known that Microsoft does this – the average American just doesn’t care.

But of course this is nothing new. Americans seem more easily hoodwinked by propaganda, and this has been the case for at least a hundred years if not more. I’ve read many scholarly examinations of this but I am still not sure that I or anyone understands exactly why Americans drink and eat up propaganda like nectar and manna, while Europeans and Australians at least question it a bit.

Jul 07

Tatiana

I have to tell you about Tatiana Maslany. sarah

Spawned from equal parts lyrebird, chameleon, and rakshasa, Maslany might right now be your dentist, your grandmother, your professor, your girlfriend or your best friend – and you wouldn’t even know it.

There is no way to overstate how good she is – she is an amazing actor who does things on screen I thought impossible.

Right now she’s the star of the BBC America show Orphan Black, which is worth watching even without how utterly fantastic Maslany is. The premise of the show is not that important in this context, but on screen she plays several different “clones” of herself – all of whom superficially look identical but who have lived very different lives and are therefore very different people.

She plays these doppelgängers so skillfully and so successfully that if I stumbled into the room and had never seen the show before, and were just catching it in the middle of an episode where Maslany is on screen as two or even three different versions of herself, I would have no idea at all that it is the same person.

alisonShe doesn’t just play a character. Maslany becomes that character.

The photos embedded in this text will show only the superficial differences, just the differences in appearance of each character that Maslany plays. That is really not even the smallest part of it. Maslany manages to change her mannerisms completely. Her voice sounds different as each character without sounding unnatural in any way. Everything about the essence she exudes is completely and utterly altered as Sarah, as Allison, as Katja, as Helena, as Beth.

Two parts of the show I want to mention specifically. The first is a part in episode 4 where Maslany as Helena walks into the police station where another Maslany version works (as an impostor, too complicated to explain here). The sense of menace and barely-contained violence that Helena radiates is so palpable it nearly bleeds from the TV screen. Watching Helena try to contain this baleful emanation, to try to be for a few moments the “impostor-police” version of Maslany gave the sort of frisson of which only great art is capable.helena

And in another part of the same episode, the soccer-mom-suburbanite version of Maslany must impersonate the street hustler/drug dealer Maslany clone, and this is done utterly brilliantly. Because for normal people – people not Tatiana Maslany, that is – impersonation of another person is extremely, ridiculously difficult.

So we have Maslany, as Allison, impersonating Sarah, and Allison’s Sarah is just too much. Mannerisms in Sarah that seem completely natural, such as her somewhat-macho walk, Allison at first can only imitate by walking like an ape intent on dragging its knuckles on the ground. In other words, a terrible caricature as most people would do it.

cosimaWatching Allison’s Sarah only makes you realize more just how subtle what Maslany is doing in all the many roles she plays – because Allison’s Sarah seems like a dime-store imitation of someone real, whereas Sarah, Maslany’s Sarah, seems like a completely real person that you might meet somewhere.

Maslany is in fact so good that it’s easy to tell when she’s being one character even as she’s dressed as a different one.

Entertainment Weekly said it best I think when they wrote, “There is no better special effect on TV than Tatiana Maslany.”

I could go on and on about Maslany’s raw fucking talent, but really – just watch the show.

Jul 05

It’s wild out there

We live smack dab in one of the most urban areas in the United States. But I live in Florida so I still get to see tons of wildlife.

Things I’ve seen just today, without even going outside:

1) Two great blue herons

2) About a dozen white ibises

3) A snowy egret

4) At least two great egrets, maybe more (hard to tell them apart)

5) A giant swallowtail butterfly

6) A wood stork

7) About a dozen frogs of unknown specie(s)

8) Two turtles

9) Cattle egrets

10) A dove

11) A hawk or merlin (these all look the same to me)

12) An anhinga

12) The fish it caught, briefly

13) One little blue heron

14) A male cardinal

15) A viceroy butterfly

That’s just looking out the window. I haven’t opened a door all day.

Jul 05

Cracks

This is my mini-review of Cracks.

There are few films that feature characters that one both despises and feels pity and even empathy for. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another one.

This film will bring you a place that you will feel both, in creeping steps and in a confusing-enough way that you think almost that you’ve lived the final scene from both sides in all its desperate hopelessness.

Eva Green as Miss G in Cracks pulls off a quiet yet intense performance as a boarding school teacher who is not quite who she seems to be, perhaps even to herself. She exudes mystery yet is not truly mysterious at all – and at the same time seems nurturing and solicitous of her students and charges but is something else altogether.

María Valverde is Green’s perfect foil as Fiamma, an aristocratic, introverted and quietly adept Spanish student fleeing the Spanish civil war who is already even at her young age everything that Miss G wishes she could be, or at least could have been.

The film itself is difficult to place in the canon of cinema, especially as viewed by my American eyes whose sole real experience of British boarding school fare is Harry Potter.

That said, rarely does a film feature no male speaking parts at all. Also nearly as rarely is it directed by a woman (Jordan Scott, niece of director Tony Scott). And even more rarely are the women and girls allowed to be flawed in very human, very real ways while the director allows them just to be who they are – each cinerescent in character rather than expressing by directorial diktat some Manichean division between the truly good and the definitively evil.

Oh, there is evil in the film for sure, but I am not certain it is a chosen malevolence or more like some train on which the brakes are broken and the engineer is dead that will collide with the approaching engine and all its cars no matter what anyone does.

In that case, the work is like a Greek tragedy except the inevitable doom is visited on others as the worst fate one character can imagine has already occurred to her and within her.

It’s not clear if we are supposed to be seeing the events of the film through her eyes, or rather witnessing it as a documentarian: these things happened.

I rather favor the latter interpretation as though the film and the characters are well-drawn and not just sketches, they are there neither to be loved nor hated – they exist as cenotaphs to their existence only, and any other conclusions are left for the viewer.

Jul 05

Was thinking

This is something that makes me chuckle every time I think about it.

Back in the mid-90s, I’d use a friend’s account to go into AOL chat rooms and establish a little rapport, then say “Press ALT and F4 at the same time, and something cool will happen.”

Of course this is the command to close a window in Windows, so half the people in the chatroom would then disappear.

A few minutes later (everything about the internet took way longer in the mid-90s) they’d come back and indignantly say something like, “You said something cool would happen if I pressed ALT and F4 but it kicked me out of AOL!”

And then I’d respond, “Something cool did happen. All the idiots left the chat room as if by magic!”

Griefing AOLers shouldn’t really have been as fun as it was, though looking back it seems a little like taunting a 6-month-old for not being able to walk.

Jul 04

Protists and protests

Even though I don’t agree with Clarissa about some aspects of the “Occupy” movement and other worldwide protests, I think this analysis is spot-on, particularly this part.

Protesters release the tension through the carnavalesque but ultimately meaningless activities and are then ready to hand themselves over to the system they ranted against with an even greater abandon.

The Occupy protests or their successors will only achieve anything when they attempt to actually occupy or to take something – protests especially as they are conduced in the US, like comedy and satire*, more blow off steam than threaten existing power structures.

Protests might be necessary but they aren’t sufficient. The Occupy protesters should’ve, for instance, actually and physically occupied Wall Street and the large banks and then sent a list of cogent demands to Congress of how to reduce the power of the kleptocracy.

Yes, many would’ve died as there is nothing so staunchly and sedulously defended as wealth. But there is a cost to every action in this world.

*In authoritarian regimes, satire of leaders on state-sanctioned TV programs is often encouraged or at the least ignored as it is well-known to be a stress reliever among the hoi pollo subservient to that regime. Jon Stewart, anyone?

Jul 04

Surv

Anyone who thinks ubiquitous surveillance does anything at all to keep us safe is a pure damn idiot.

All it does is generate massive amounts of useless data, millions of false positives, and diverts attention from real law enforcement and investigations.

What it really does – and in fact is its main goal — is to keep corporations and the government in power. That’s about all.

Jul 03

Dougie E

The guy who basically invented nearly everything most people think of when they think “computer” has abended.

In addition to the computer mouse, Engelbart’s work at SRI from 1957 to 1977 helped develop tech innovations such as display editing, online processing, linking and in-file object addressing, use of multiple windows, hypermedia, and context-sensitive help, the institute said.

Add to that WYSIWYG, video conferencing, and collaborative real-time editing.

Engelbart’s Mother of All Demos is perhaps the greatest virtuosic achievement in practical applied computing technology ever, akin to someone in second-century BC Rome building a functioning 747 in a stable, rolling it down the Appian Way and taking off.

Jul 03

Not fitting

I think the main reason despite having decent social skills that I have trouble fitting into human social groups is that most people are primarily concerned with what others think of them, while I am mostly concerned with what I think of myself.

That sounds solipsistic, but I just mean that I base my ethical and moral axioms less from my social milieu and more from at least what I perceive as higher principles and more-reliable precepts.

Of course, no one can be completely unconcerned with what others think. Not if they want to live in a society of any type. But just saying that my priorities are reversed from the norm.

And it means that if everyone claims the sky is purple when it is in fact blue, I will be ostracized because I will invariably say, “That looks blue to me, ya’ll.”

I know because it happens. And I know it’s going to happen, and I can’t help myself. It’s not that I like being right. That really, truly doesn’t matter to me. What I don’t like is being a moron because everyone else has decided to be one as at the moment it’s the socially accepted way to be.

There will always be this distance, I think. It is an indelible part of who I am, and has been as long as I can remember.