Fine, technically it was Forest Whitaker

There is little in this world as comforting as the sudden knowledge that how the soul of Idi Amin, who lives in a dorm room on the far end of campus (not Au's campus, mind. Just... A campus), wants to give you a new computer in exchange for the broken shards of your current laptop, which you broke... skydiving? (Here things get vague, because that was earlier in the dream) And you know he wants it to take over all creation or something but he'll do something terrible to you if you don't give in, and maybe you can give him a pdf of the core D&D books and maybe he'll leave you alone? You know, that?

That was just a dream.

... Right?

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A Modest Workday

I was at work, putting books into boxes to be returned to where they came from. And then, my boss Charlie showed up (which was odd, as it was clearly past the time she'd have left), and reminded me of five more things I ought to do. I thought to myself that this seemed oddly dreamlike, but hey, this happens. So, I ended up leaving work at eleven, which turned into eleven-forty, because the buses just run like that sometimes. And I couldn't get hold of Sara, and I knew she was worried, but there was nothing I could do but wait for the bus. So I found myself waiting at some sort of outside bar, drinking a White Russian and trying to figure out whether I was justified in leaving without paying if the bartender left me waiting for five minutes.  I called Sara again, to get her opinion on the matter, and she wanted to know why I was getting home so late, and I honestly couldn't explain why this particular work-day had been twelve hours long.

And then I woke up, fifteen minutes ago, to find out that I'd somehow dreamed the whole unnecessarily-twelve-hour-workday in the twenty minutes since I'd turned off my alarm.

Great. My subconscious thinks it's Jonathan Swift. A very trite Jonathan Swift.

Except for the White Russian bit. Alcohol doesn't happen very often in my life.


Reading Man Blues

Friday, we went to see The Tale of Despereaux. Spoilers and all that, for Despereaux in all forms.

Until Friday night, I'd always held a relativly simple rule regarding books that are adapted into films: read the book first. Jackass. Now, it seems that rule needs some... tweaking.

This is not a criticism of the flick—at least, not directly. The Tale of Despereaux is, I would say, a fine enough movie, flawed in ways both bizzare and unneeded, but not fatally so. I didn't feel moved by it, but not every kid's movie has to have a Dori-and-Marlin "You think you can do these things, but you can't, Nemo..." gutpunch to it. The movie was good. It was more than satisfactory for both children and for adults who aren't expecting the second coming of Stitch.

One thing that The Tale of Desperaux is decidedly not, however, is The Tale of Despereaux.

This is a complicated point, so I'd understand if you wanted to reread it. All cleared up? Good. Onwards.

The Tale of Despereaux, being the tale of a small mouse, a princess, a spool of thread, and some soup, is a Newberry-winning novel by Kate DeCamillo. You may have seen it in the stores: a mouse on the cover, a loop of red thread around his waist with a needle thrust into it, rushing off towards a future which is uncertain and probably dire, and which must be faced. This is a story for the ages and all ages. A story about heroism, yes. And about storytelling, about how the stories we tell each other matter. And about what makes people do bad things. And about how it is always the outsider, the outcast, the freak who has the chance to be great. And about how we can heal, and how there is a way (as Rahim Khan promised) to be good again, but also about being good again is never the same as having been good in the first place. How Happy Ever After is out of reach, but we can, we must strive for the best end we can atain, knowing that we may never win the princess's heart, but to strive is all we have the way we'd hoped. We can have the light, it tells us. But we may never be of it. And a thousand other things besides.

And all of these may be in the film, in bits and pieces. But never at full strength. At the same time, the film adds a bevvy of completly sepearate (and arguably ugly) messages laid on, most notablly one about being fearless. Not brave, not the bravery of the coward who knees knocking holds his ground, but the fearlessness of the madman who charges the dragon because he sees no reason not to. Desperaux is changed from a total outsider whose sin is that he fundamentally finds beauty in a world that none of the other mice know to a mere oddball who endangers the community by acting as though the world were a safe one. The paper dreamer is turned into a digital daredevil, who leaps into a danger that his literary forebear (quite sensibly) faints at the thought of facing. Faints twice, in fact. It is easier to admire the daredevil. But it is the dreamer that we must aspire to become.

Not a single character survives the adaptation: Chiaroscuro is turned from a light-loving rat who, driven back into the dark, seeks revenge as light's subsitute, into an outsider who is il at ease in the dungeion; the Princess is made darker. Even the nature of the three socities is shifted: the rats are turned from dark-dwelling Mephisto-like masters of psycological torture to a crudely civilized race of proto-Roman bloodsport worshipers whose city, far from dark, has more matches than a smoker's loungue; the mice are made cowards rather than reactionaries, and given (like the rats) far too urban, far too human a lifestyle for my liking. The human kingdom is stripped of the grit where a father might sell his daughter ofr a blanket to a man who will box her ears, and turned into a happy-fairytale land where divine writ can change the weather and where soup is supremely elevated to a position normally reserved for the divine. Perhaps because it's in the title of the book, which makes me wonder what happened to the spool of thread, which started out deserving its eponymous role.


Despite the preceding sentence, the two paragraphs before that, and all the other words that might lead you to think otherwise, the movie itself is fine. Had I not read the book, I would only have had problems with the fact that outlawing soup keeps the rain from falling for no good reason besides quirky metaphysics, and that Desperaux glides with his ears twice in a wholly futile manner, a trick that seems pointedly pointless. But these can be allowed, in the same way that I can allow for the silly vegetable soup sous-chef, who is somewhat jarring but still can be allowed in a movie not on a book where such a creature clearly has no business.

If you were to write out a basic plot summery for both book and movie, you'd see many differences, but also a fair number of similarities; compared to, say, the Ironman movie vs. the earliest Ironman comic books, they're practically one and the same. And yet...

Both works feature a trial of Despereaux for the crime of consorting with the Princess (among other acts). The facts are apparent in both hearings; the verdicts and sentences are identical. But the procedings are somewhat difficult. In the film, Desperaux is offered the chance to explain his actions. He responds that the book he read was intersting, and the princess he spoke with was beautiful. And this is the wrong thing to say.
In the book, what he is asked, what he is offered, is the chance to admit fault. An atonement which will not save his body, but will (we are told) save his soul. Admit your fault, and it will be easier. He responds that he has no fault to confess. And this is the wrong thing to say.

These two exchanges are similar. But they are not the same. And in between the two, I think, lies the world.

So, if you want to see a mouse in theatres this New Years, do yourself a favor: hold off on the book. Wait for it. Because you owe it to yourself to read it, you truly do. But once you've seen gold, silver seems all the more tarnished.

Is this pretentious? Two thousand words on a kid's cartoon which basically say "see it if you want; it's okay"? I guess, probably.


Orders of Magnitude

Every news story discussing Henry Paulson's $700,000,000,000 economic bail-out should, at least once, print out the whole number, with zeros, before going back to calling it seven hundred billion. Because we're too used to hearing "a billion dollars" thrown around, from Dr. Evil's monetary demands to the amount that Bill Gates is spending fighting malaria to the theatrical take of three motion pictures (soon to be four). But, you know, seven hundered billion dollars here and $700,000,000,000 there, and soon we're talking real money.

And we need those zeroes. Without them, 7*1011 looks ... ordinary.

I also find it highly suspicious that we need it just after the Zimbabwe dollar's devaluation. Maybe Paulson meant he wanted seven hundred thousand million of those.


On the other hand, Cersei deserves whatever is in store.

A pretty good weekend. The first Mage: The Ascension game of the year, a bit of hanging out with friends, plenty of Sara time. (At the moment, we're Netflixing The Gilmore Girls, and streaming Red Dwarf) Yesterday, Sara, Becky and I went to the Montgomery Mall for shoes and sundries. And while Sara was trying on some pants in Torrid, Becky and I went into the Borders Express.

Oh, I thought to myself, looking at the sizable displays of dragon-coated hardcovers. Brisingr is out.

Becky, it turns out, owns a copy of both Eragon and Eldest, and had gotten halfway through the first one before giving up in disgust. I'd done somewhat better (for a certain value of "better), reading all of Eragon while in Montana. And while we waited for Sara, we discussed the manifold failings of the novel. Some of them were, perhaps, somewhat silly: Becky pointing out, for example, that Brisingr breaks the E____ pattern established by the first novels. Other failings were something more egregious. I commented that Eragon himself, the titular character, was dull and not someone that you really feel compelled to name a novel after. Becky claimed to have lost track of the number of side characters that the book introduced. I remembered the werecat, and muttered dark threats. Neither of us, clearly, showed any intrest in investigating the Inheritance books any further.

Before you say anything: Yes, Christopher Paolini was 15 when he had the first book published. Yes, hitting the New York Times bestseller's at 19 is a feat. But from the perspective of a reader, this does no more than excuse the transparant lack of craftmanship to the novel. And an excuse is no patch.

So we have a novel with a simple dichotomy between good and evil, without the mythicized, otherworldly Evil that a Tolkin or an Alexander would provide; Galbatorix is an entirely mortal but unseen Emperor who inspired neither dread nor anger nor any reactgion at all other than some degree over his ridiculous name. We have a hero who is boringly overcompetent. We have enough random fantasy monsters to populate a D&D campaigin (including the aforementioned werecat), and four different magic systems, two elements which I personally found obnoxious. And at the end, we have a true thud of a battle which evokes neither a cinematic view of near defeat turning to desperate triumph, nor the chaos of a battle where you can see no farther into the distance than the next sword being raised up against you, where victory or defeat is meaningless compared to the need to survive a few breaths more. (I'm reminded of a moment from To Green Angel Tower, at the Lake of Glass, where Simon, attempting to catch his breath, looks around and wonders who is winning).

And above all, we have the utter lack of any novel theme, or novel view of a theme. There's Destiny and Justice and Freedom and some implied True Love or something, but it all develops into nothing we haven't seen befoe, except perhaps the argument (voiced in argument to Eragon) that killing men who surender or flee is no worse than killing an armed man in a "fair fight" that he has no possible chance of winning. Maybe that's an innovation; it certainly isn't an idea I've explicitly heard, although the idea of tying your metaphic hand behind your back to give the enemy a "chance" is vaugly analogous.

So, total crap. Which makes it all the more depressing that this weekend tens of thousands of people (not all of them kids) are going to be putting down thirty bucks for the latest in this literary trudge through medicrity.

When they could reach for something much better.

OK. I'm certainly not about to suggest that the target audience of Eragon should be reading A Song of Ice and Fire; I'm still vauguly uncomfortable with the knowlege that my 13-year-old sister has finished the first books that George R. R. Martin has written, a discomfort which stems only in part from the fact that she finished them before I could. Because Westeros is not Happy Fun Sunshine Land; Martin writes about hideious betrayal and hopeless honor and fatal love and sex, sex, sex—violent, incestuous, certainly "unwholesome"—which may not really make him the best choice for the pre-teen sect, or even for most of the teenagers.

But that's the nature of the story he's telling: a story where there is no Evil Empire, no Dark Lord. It's fantasy, yes, filled with the shadows of maegi and wights, abuzz with the flame of dragons and the light of unknown gods. But the core of the story, in truth, could have existed in Europe five hundered years ago: a war for a kingdom which is tearing that kingdom to splinters. And Martin shines in this. Because there is no such thing as safety here, no character shields other than the assumption that a story is not yet finished.

There's a moment in the third book of the series, A Storm of Swords, which is both a narrative pivot and an emotional cannon to the gut. If you read it, you will be shaken. There are dozens of moments that will probably evoke thrill or anger or (in a rare instance) some jot of desperate joy. But Martin has written what may the the closest thing to certain I've ever read. And this kind of "certain" is pretty rare. There's nothing of that in Eragon, a novel where the certainties are the survival of the main character and the probable death of a mentor or two and revelations about his parentage and some angst at the start of the novel which has nothing to do with anything.

So, why should you be reading A Song of Ice and Fire? Why shouldn't you give Eragon a try? Because the only emotion that George R. R. Martin fails to provoke is disintrest. And the only thing interestng about Paolini is wondering how he became a success in the first place.

Food now, I think.


Work Ethic

I'm still filling out job applications...

Even though I am a hard worker, it somehow seems dishonest to say that I have a good work ethic. The truth is, I do. But only when I'm actually working. Looking for work, evidnetly, not so much.

Also, it's like a million degrees. That might be part of it.


Listless in Rockville

Sorry it's been a while since I've put something up. I've been busy!

Very busy. Between the working and the flying home and Radcliffe dying retiring and the long search for a house, a search which ended Monday in the same location that it had almost ended in a bloody month sooner, before I first balked on not seeing the place and then decided that being about a half hour closer to all my friends (one friend in particular) was worth the extra $X a month in rent. It still might have been worth it. Given I'm only here for four months, and in January (hopefully), Sara and I will have our own place (or maybe split our own place with a friend), it still might be worth it in the future. But given it didn't happen, I'm now in my own room, in Rockville, MD.


It's not a bad roo, don't get me wrong. It's a bit warm now, and it was too cold earlier, and it's hard to read what the kitchen stove is telling me about the knobs, and... well, it's basic. It's great, really. I just need to get settled. And maybe a dresser or shelves or something.

The problem... Well, there's a couple things. For starters, Radcliffe is inoporable, leaving about twenty five hundred songs inacessible. At the same time, I've lost the cord for my shuffle, so even the (ten hours of) podcasts on my new laptop (currently nameless) are... tethered. And the temp agency is still letting me know about work next week and...

I don't know. I'm just sort of rootless at the moment. What have I accomplished today? Not too much. Certainly not the things I'd intended to do. And yesterday was kind of similar, although at least then I got to see Sara.

On the bright side, my alarm is set reasonably early in the morning tomorrow, and I've got a text file full of things I need to do. Tomorrow is a better day. Let's hope I can seize it.

I need to write more. Because writing this was decidedly unsatisfactory.


Living Conditions

Yes, I know I'm not very good at keeping this thing updated. Life is pretty busy, but enjoyable here, though, so I don't really have the time. And the internet sucks.

Which is a problem. Because I'm looking for housing, and it's really hard to do it if you need to reload the page every few minutes.

Still, I've seen a few prospects. Some rooms that aren't... well, I'm not really sure what my price range is, because my job plans at the moment are "Temp, and look for jobs". But I'm saving a good amount of money here, and I think I'll be able to earn enough to pay, say, $800 in rent without starving.

The problem is, of course, that I don't know how to phrase a request for the relatively few rooms I've found which are less than a thousand dollars a month. "Hi. I'm quiet and don't smoke or drink, and I can probably make rent and maybe give you bread, but I'm not sure I can commit to a year-long lease." That's what I've got so far. And it's true, and honest, and as compelling as a novel about termites. And I'm not seeing that many rooms that I know I can afford.

I ought to look for a roommate, I guess. But everyone I know has already figured out their housing situation.

Argh. I'm just stressed, and worried about it all. Because I do not want to go live at home in the fall. Because I love my family. But I need a job which will lead to other jobs. I need to be with my friends. I need to stay in the same MTA as the girl I love.

And to do these things, I need a roof over my head. And an Internet which will let me find one..

Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me would make me feel better. If it would just bloody download...
Seriously. Much better connection in Beijing.