Thursday, July 26, 2007

Invasion: Sci-Fi/Horror at its Best

Recently I've been watching the ABC series Invasion which went off the air in 2006.  Impressed with its creativity and its new spin on old ideas.  The "Body Snatcher" idea is one of the oldest in sci-fi, and hearkens back to folklore, in tales of doppelgangers and changelings.  This particular spin on it is truly interesting, and has provoked my contemplation and brooding long after finishing each episode. 

If you aren't familiar with the series, the "aliens" which are never presented as having technology--rather they are biological entities that attack human beings.  They look like a cross between giant orange manta rays and trilobytes.  They sieze a victim and suck out DNA material.  At this point, the creature itself, using the DNA material, metamorphose into replicas of the humans they consumed.  In one very well written episode, a botched attack results in a botched replica. 

The replicas have memories of their original lives, but they are not human and don't have, apparently, souls.  There's something hard, brittle, and coldhearted about them.  They don't have consciences.  Essentially, the replicas are sociopaths from the get-go.

There is one, however, which has been around quite a while longer than the rest, who was created after a plane crash in the Everglades (the Value Jet crash standing in).  He performs a kind of midwife role in the first season.  The second season introduces a shadow uber replicant named Zura, who is attempting to achieve a foothold in the American military. 

The interesting thing for me, what this show has made me ponder, is the nature of memory.  Clearly the replicants have the memories of the human beings they consume/devour/drain/absorb.  Memories are nerve impulses stored in our brains.  The creatures clearly absorb not only the DNA, but the neural patterns that make up their victim's memories.  That's so cool!

This is similar to a discussion of John Carpenter's The Thing, that I was reading the other day.  In that discussion, one opinion was that a person infected with the Thing did not necessarily know that they were infected.  (Norris).  The thing took them over, cell by cell, replicating each cell and neural pathway individually.  Not until the underlying Thing consciousness felt threatened, did it reveal itself, rise to the surface, and overwhelm the faux consciousness of the being it had replicated.  We see this as Dr. Copper attempts to defibrillate Norris after his heart attack.  The Thing considered the electricity an attack, and defended itself.  Up until that point, Norris was unaware that he had been transmuted into a Thing, cell by cell.

I wish I could come up with ideas this rich and cool.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Love My Enemy

I don't have many enemies, but a lot of people infuriate me.  Most of them I don't know personally since I don't permit anyone close to me to infuriate me more than once.  However, in order to manage my own fury, I often follow Jesus' advice and the advice in the Big Book of praying for those people. 

I use the Benediction, which is found in the book of Numbers.

"May the Lord bless and keep you.
May the Lord make His face to shine upon you
and be gracious to you;
May the Lord lift up His countenance upon you
and give you PEACE."

I've often wondered about this little prayer which I love.  For years I thought His face and His countenance were the same things.  Not entirely.  I looked at Webster's today.

The fourth definition of countenance is:

4.approval or favor; encouragement; moral support.

So, when I say this prayer, I will say it with this meaning: May the Lord lift up his encouragement and support of you and give you peace.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Skip Along

My friend Skip had a heart attack on Tuesday night and died yesterday morning.  He was a good man who had a hard past six months dealing with a discordant situation at home, worry and stress over finances and the insanity of drug addiction - a housemate's addiction - not his own.  While it is tempting to blame the housemate for driving Skip to a premature grave, the truth is that on some level, Skip chose his own poison.  He had options.  He also had suffered a previous heart attack and still smoked three packs a day.  I spoke with him on the phone at length on Monday night, and he told me that he had just received his cigarette shipment from back east (in order to sidestep Washington state tobacco prices).

Personally I'm tired of the melodrama.  Tonight I'm going to partake in Morita therapy, which is the therapy of puttering, peace through action.  It's Japanese.  It works.  You get lost in simple tasks.  It's very peaceful.  I'll organize, clean, tidy, and vacuum, do laundry, the sundry domestic chores that take the mind away from pain.  And in the end, I will have accomplished something--a clean house, as well as avoiding heaping misery upon misery by acting out.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Things I won't Miss About Seattle

Here are some things I won't miss about Seattle (in no particular order)

Crack - and the people who make, market and use it.


Public Transportation.  Smelly, stifling, seats too small, trips too long.

10% sales tax.


Trying to find parking.

Population density--the feeling of being crowded, oppressed, hemmed in.

The dark side of Anonymity: the feeling you're completely on your own, and God help you.

Earthquakes and the possibility of earthquakes, volcanoes, mudslides, tsunamis and other natural catastrophes.

The proximity to the Asian ports and the nasty flu bugs that disembark here.

The feeling that everything is always constantly changing all the time.

How you have to fly in order to go anywhere else in the country.

How expensive it has become to live here.

I used to love Seattle, but my love affair has ended.  I have 8-10 months left before I leave, and that's going to be a long haul.  I'm trying to get prepared by eliminating the clutter now. 

Friday, July 13, 2007

Delores Umbridge

I haven't yet seen Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, but I will say that it is my favorite of the books. 

This is primarily because of its villain, Delores Umbridge.  I'm going to discuss her character here, but rest assured that this won't spoil the film if you haven't seen it.  Hopefully, it will deepen your appreciation.

Among the most important elements of character are their values and codes of conduct.  With protagonists, values often revolve around "the common good."  Heroes typically take action to benefit community.  Thus heroes place value on truth, justice, fairness, equality, etc.  Antagonists, on the other hand, often place themselves ahead of community.  They value self-aggrandizement.  Greed, pride, control, etc.

The greatest and most literary heroes often display values along a continuum between the self-centered and the altruistic.  Such characters have mixed motives or inner conflicts, and their principles need to be refined or defined.

So too, with villains.  Delores Umbridge has positive qualities: she values loyalty.  She is fiercely loyal to Fudge and the Ministry of Magic, and to well-ordered society.  She places societal well-being over individual well-being.  Thus she could be said to value community in a similar way to a hero.  So what makes her a villain?

Her willful denial of the truth.  She refuses to entertain the heresy that Voldemort has returned.  Her desire for the appearance of order and well-being is so strong it blinds her to the truth.  When voices of dissent challenge her pre-conceived ideas, she stifles them through intimidation and torture.  In her zeal to protect her vision of the well-ordered life, which is based on willful self-deception, she sacrifies justice for security.  Lies and deceit, especially willful self-deceit, is a character defect that, left unaddressed, will lead to hubris and downfall.  This is art mirroring life.

And the parallels to the Bush/Blair administrations couldn't be more obvious.

Delores Umbridge, because of her mixed motives, is one of the greatest villains of literature, and joins Madame Dafarge, Mrs. Danvers, Lady Macbeth and Clytemnestra in the pantheon of the great female evil doers.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Deflecting Liability?

Brian Wells, the Erie Pennsylvania Pizza deliveryman at the center of the collar bomber case, was detained by police for more than 40 minutes before the device exploded.  Imagine you're in the policemen's shoes: frightened, apprehensive, never seen anything remotely like this, unsure of what to do, etc.

The bomb squad wasn't called for 32 minutes into the ordeal. 

Now unsealed indictments paint Wells as a willing coconspirator.  We'll never know for sure.  Wells was killed by the bomb.  His family has been given the silent treatment by officials from the beginning, an arrogant arms-length approach that antagonizes them.

For what purpose?  Law enforcement is clearly hostile to the family.  Why?  Is it because they are engaging in CYA shennanigans?  If a mother, for example, were to bring a lawsuit for wrongful death against the law enforcement agency that neglected to call the appropriate experts until it was far too late, in an emergency, she would have a much, much stronger case if the victim was an innocent hostage, rather than a willing co-conspirator. 

By naming Brian Wells a co-conspirator, prosecutors have eviscerated any civil action the family might bring for negligence on the part of law enforcement.  This is the circle-the-wagons approach in goverment that we see time and again--especially when lawsuits are likely.

Of course, Brian Wells might factually be a coconspirator, but he'll never have a chance to defend himself.  It will never be proven or disproven, but will sit in legal limbo until a civil action commences.  The cloud of that uncertainty will allow the state's defense attorney to make mincemeat out of the plaintiff's case.

And there's the matter of Well's previous association with Deihl-Armstrong's boyfriend Barnes.  That's circumstantial evidence that really stinks.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

My Father's Physician

My father's doctor was recently arrested, charged with trespassing and burglary.  It doesn't add up.  Burglary is much better defined in the Minnesota criminal code (under which Dr. Heine is presumably charged) than the Iowa code.  The Minnesota code defines burglary as:

 Subd. 3. Burglary in the third degree; Whoever enters a building without consent and with intent to steal or commit any felony or gross misdemeanor while in the building, or enters a building without consent and steals or commits a felony or gross misdemeanor while in the building, either directly or as an accomplice, commits burglary in the third degree and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than five years or to payment of a fine of not more than $10,000, or both.


The Iowa code requires theft in order to be convicted of burglary.  Theft is defined by degree based on the value of the property stolen.  The Minnesota statute does not make that fine point--requiring only the taking of property that doesn't belong to the accused.  But--can the taking of something which is essentially worthless be stealing?  Without a set definition in the statute, the law relies on the standard dictionary definition of the word.  Websters is the dictionary of choice for most jurisdictions and Websters defines steal as: "To take (the property of another) without right or permission."

Are items in a "lost and found" box anyone's "property?"  They certainly have no intrinsic value. 

In order to find the doctor guilty, the jurors will have to find that the doctor not only factually did everything the prosecution said he did, but that those actions fit the law as it is written.  I believe the law was written to cover property of value.  Thus, if the doctor had taken audio-visual equipment, band instruments, computers, etc., he could correctly be charged with burglary.  But taking worthless pieces of fabric unclaimed as property by any individual is stretching the law in order to accuse him of a more serious crime than that which was allegedly factually committed.  I suspect that's because of the suspected sexual motive for the talking--which is not covered by the statute, I note. 

All of this is a railroad in an attempt to deprive the accused of his professional standing in the community.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Personal Questions

Answering personal questions from nosy Iowans.  Hmm.  I'm going to have to get used to it.  Or, if not precisely used to it, develop a strategy on how to cope.  Because you gotta know, it's coming. 

"So, arya still acting?"  "How longya gonna be here?"  "Whenja get back?"  etc.  But now when people discover that I've abandoned Seattle, they're going to be doubly curious. "What broughtcha back?"  "Whatcha gonna do now?"  "Whatcha gonna be do'in in Decorah?"  or the really nosy who don't care if they're being impolite and don't really care if anybody else (including me) knows it--"Gotta job?"

Some of this can be deflected with humor:  "I left Seattle because I got tired of all the traffic and all the liberals."  "Too expensive, too many people--especially, too many liberals."  etc.

This will immediately cause a republican to laugh, and also I would think an Iowa democrat, most of whom run a moderate stripe--the only ones I have to watch out for is the hippie-commie-peaceniks up at Luther, whose blue is the color of the deepest ocean trenches.

As far as the job goes, if I leave it deliberately vague, it only invites further prying.  Thus I must always couch it in terms Iowans understand: Family.  "I wanted to be closer to family"--which has the double advantage of being the truth, and something they can understand.  If they probe, I can always say, "well you know Dad has a lot to cope with, with Norma in that wheelchair..."  [arched eyebrow].  This redirects the question to perhaps a prejudice that the interogator already possesses--that of Dad caring for his invalid wife and what a pity that is--and wouldn't things be different if Betty were still around...

"I'm going to be doing some things for the firm over the internet from home," also has a mysterious ring to it and could invite a peppering of questions, but ones that I don't necessarily mind answering.

The response I would truly love to give?  "I've got a book contract and I'll be working on revising and editing my manuscript for publication."  Between now and next spring, I hereby promise to commit to trying to make this response a truthful one, one that I can use with pride. :)