Offensensitivity

The FCC is taking action against stations who aired an episode of “NYPD Blue” five years ago.

I was an intermittent watcher but I recall the episode in question. I only recalled it vaguely upon re-watching that scene but after many repeated viewings, I remember being mildly scandalized.

For those of you who would like to view it repeatedly as well, the youtube clip is here. (Obvious content warning.)

Maybe I’m just jaded or society is just that coarse, but I really can’t find offense in that clip now. It’s not at all sexual. And the shot from between her legs is comical, as is the close up from behind the boy’s head, where his ears are essentially blocking the view of her breasts. Funny.

But basically, I look at it and think, “Charlotte Ross has an amazing body!”

I’ve talked about Bochco before and how I think the nets should be focusing on family-friendly fare, but I’m pretty sure the government’s involvement should be minimal. Also, I actually wouldn’t call that scene family-unfriendly.

I know families who cover up from stem-to-stern from the moment they wake till–well, they sleep covered up, too, so, always (actually, even in baths!). But my experience suggests children are born nudists and don’t think–until they’re taught to–anything of nudity in others.

Wicked!? Eh, not so much.

So I sat down last year with Gregory Maguire’s Wicked. I managed to force my way through to the end this week.

I picked it up out of interest because we had just read the first six Oz books by L. Frank Baum, and it seemed like there could be an interesting, modern treatment of the incredibly inconsistent world LFB dreamed up as a vehicle for nightmarish puns. (Seriously. Puns abound in the books.)

I suppose I was thinking of, for example, American McGee’s Alice, the third-person platformer that takes place in a darker imagining of Wonderland than Lewis Carrol’s. I’m not good at those sorts of games, so I didn’t play much past the first level, but I did like the visuals. And for Wonderland, all you need to do is take things slightly more literally, and it becomes very dark indeed without much alteration. (The Cheshire Cat’s “We’re all mad here” isn’t much off from Norman Bates’ “We all go a little mad sometimes”.)

But Baum’s Oz was not at all dark. I think by the end of his series, no one ever died in Oz, or even grew older, and there were peaceful, happy (or at least minimally violent, with combat involving rotten eggs) solutions to everything.

Now, Baum was a vigorous retconner who had turned the Wizard from a benign humbug in the first book, to a tyrant who had sent away the rightful ruler of Oz in the second and possibly third book, to a benevolent trickster later on, as the fans clamored for more Wizard. So, there’s a lot of slack.

I knew within the opening chapters of Maguire’s book that I wasn’t going to like it. But this is fairly construed as a matter of taste. I’m sure, for example, I would find his use of the 3rd Person Omniscient and the occasionally extremely casual prose delightful if I were enjoying the book otherwise. Instead I found them jarring, and kept going back to re-read those sections to make sure I had correctly understood them.

So, you know, take wht I say with a BIG grain of salt.

I was a bit put off with the book in the initial chapters, when we’re introduced to Elphaba’s mother. (Elphaba, from ElFrank-Baum, apparently, is the name given to the witch, who had no name in LFB’s books, or barely a mention after the first one.) She’s a woman of casual attendance to her marriage vows.

Great. Let’s start our “re-imagining” with sexual indiscretions. Adultery plays a huge part in the book, which doesn’t normally bother me, but rubbed me the wrong way here. It’s a cheap gateway to making a book “adult”, I guess.

I would say it wasn’t necessary for advancing the story but I’m not sure I got the story at all. I guess it’s supposed to be about the nature of good versus evil, but the Wizard is never portrayed as anything but evil (Hitler/Stalin-esque, really), and the Witch could mostly be described as unpleasant, even as she’s willing to kinda-sorta stand up to the Wizard.

It’s sort of like the Gnostic interpretation of the Old Testament as being written by the Devil. It almost works, what with the God of the OT being so vengeful and wrathful–but then there are all those commandments about not killing, stealing and lying, which make it hard to really follow through on the whole idea.

There’s virtually no morality and very little good to be found in the book, which sort of leaves us with a joyless story about an evil world where evil ultimately triumphs. (Though presumably the Wizard’s exit at the end is a win, but Elphaba cannot even be said to have knowing facilitated that.)

In this interpretation, Dorothy is basically the Wizard’s stooge in helping him kill Elphaba, however accidentally it happens. The magic that powers a lot of the books is dubious here. There’s magic, but it’s not good for much. The ruby/silver slippers (ruby in the movie, silver in the books, cleverly skirted here) may or may not be actual magic, but act as a symbol.

Lotta symbols in this book. It’s basically about appearances.

But here’s the thing: LFB books make me smile. For all their (numerous) flaws, they’re fun. This largish tome gave me little to smile about. There were a few references to the books that did. And in the final 100 pages of the book, when it finally crosses with the first Wizard of Oz book, it picks up a bit.

Even toward the end, I was holding out for some great closure that never came. If it was supposed to show how symbolic perceptions can be misinterpreted or spun into evil, I wasn’t convinced that there was any real mastery of the subject. Indeed, the disjointed nature of the narrative (split into Elphaba’s childhood, college years, post college years, early witchdom and demise) never coalesced for me into a moment where I could say, “Yes, I see. She was good, but portrayed as evil because of a few understandable events.” Nobody in the story seems to take her seriously as evil, either, but perhaps we’re just supposed to infer how the masses would view her as evil, as they did her (far more evil in practice) sister.

If this is really spun in the musical as a you-go-girl-teen-spirit, I would consider it damned ironic.

But, as noted, this is just not my kind of book. It’s mostly thinkin’ and yakkin’ and little action, and frankly, I can get that from blogs. A book that gets this sort of thing right, in my opinion, is The Mists of Avalon. There, you’re given a convincing demonization of a character for understandable reasons, and with the story itself staying mostly true to the source.

It probably would have been more interesting to me to have Elphaba be a powerful rival to the Wizard divided by political beliefs, rather than the sort-of underdog/loser she was. (I mean, really: There is an implication that she could be powerful but she doesn’t even know it, though the Wizard does and fears her. She’s basically a bystander to the events of her life.)

Up next is Joe Haldeman’s latest The Accidental Time Machine, which I already like better.

De gustibus, you know.

VHS vs. DVD

A recent New York Times article on VHS nostalgia repeats the canard that DVDs are virtually indestructible compared to VHS.

I call shenanigans on that one. DVDs can be rendered unplayable within seconds of being handled by a six year old being very, very careful. I’ve got VHSes that are 20 years old and still work, despite having been handled by many children, or even being rental tapes at some point in their existence.

Waukegan

Our 1000th visitor was from Waukegan.

I can’t imagine going to Waukegan. I’m a Ray Bradbury fan–it was The Martian Chronicles that inspired me to become a writer–and no city could live up to his nostalgic depictions of Waukegan.

Of course, he’s been living in L.A. more or less since he was 13. You didn’t think the significance of rain in Something Wicked This Way Comes was a coincidence, did you?

One Thousandth Person To Visit The Indian Burial Grounds!

We had our thousandth visitor at the Bit Maelstrom today. At least, the thousandth since we’ve been counting, which started about a month ago.

Said person was looking for Stephen King Indian Burial Ground information. We aren’t the Internet’s #1 source of Stephen King’s use and abuse of aboriginal burial rite relics…yet. But we’re on Google’s first page!

Woo-hoo!

Our most recent visitor was looking up Maila Nurmi. So…sultry vampiresses and ancient indian burial grounds. I’ve found my niche!

The Tillys

I miss Meg Tilly.

I have nothing against Jennifer Tilly, mind you, that poker-playing, smoky-voiced sexpot, co-star with Brad Dourif of the last three Chucky movies.

But I miss Meg. I remember seeing One Dark Night as a kid and that she sort-of dwindled after Agnes of God and faded away completely after the third, forgotten remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers.

She was good, though, and while looked similar to her sister, gave off a completely different vibe.

Guess I’ll go read her blog.

And Speaking Of Institutional Stupidity

This is a fascinating look into the world of banking.

How, you may have asked yourself, could the staid and conservative world of banking fall for such an obvious and dopey setup like the sub-prime mortgage mess. Although Glenn Reynolds has pointed out that the crime of not lending to high risk populations has been replaced by the crime of lending to high risk populations, it’s clear that there’s some grass-roots stupidity going on.

The damage, dear friends, comes from not being able to trust the banks to protect their own interests. I mean, that’s how banks operate: However much you think they’re going to screw you over (if that’s what you believe, and I know I’ve felt that way from time-to-time), you at least expect them to cover their own asses.

At some point, you’re going to feel better off with the neighborhood loan shark.

Eight Years of Spanish One

That’s right.

I had eight years of Spanish One.

Eight. Consecutive. Years.

Seven of those years were at the same school, taught by the same teacher, with 80%-90% of the students the same ones who had sat next to me the previous year. I asked my Spanish teacher about it a few years later and she was quite defensive. There were alway new kids, so you couldn’t just throw them into Spanish II.

How true.

While that is an imperfect answer, until just now it had not occurred to me exactly how imperfect. We never had more than 2 new kids in a year out of the 15-20 or so in the class.

But this isn’t all that different from the overall path of education, at least as I experienced it. I was reading in Nursery School (and we didn’t have much in the way of kids’ books at home until I was older; and we never had a Dr. Seuss book) but I had to “learn” again in pre-primer (as it was called). And then again in first grade. I can’t recall how many times I had arithmetic, or U.S. History.

I recall being a little miffed in Junior High when they said nothing in grade school really counted. And a little more pissed when they said that in High School about Junior High And downright angry when they said it in college. Though, by the time I got to the University, I was used to it.

The funny thing, to me, is that I loved and respected all my teachers, until about 8th grade, when a) I was a teenager; b) I had some teachers who combined incompetence with meanness. But at some level, I think most of them knew they were part of a bad system.

How else do you justify teaching seven years of Spanish I to the same kids?

You may had your share of “tough” teachers but I can assure you that’s far better than a teacher who raises your grade (along with those of your peers) because she’s completely unable to teach her subject. (And when it’s math, that hole in your education is basically a wall to ever progressing further. I believe that’s why so many people are not just innumerate but afraid of math.)

I’ve seen so many educational fiascos, it ain’t funny. (No, really. It ain’t.) I’ve never known a time when the school system wasn’t in crisis. And I’ve never known a system to concede it was less than vital, no matter how bad a job it was doing.

But I’ve never seen one so viciously protected as the school system.

More on Lazy & Easily Bored

I was thinking about strongest and weakest personality traits, I think partly because of the election, where someone asked it of the Dem candidates and two of the candidates gave this quintessential job interview question the quintessential job interview answers: “I work too hard and I care too much” or somesuch.

It’s a dumb question, of course. I mean, I don’t know why others think it is, but it seems to me that it’s useless without context. My weaknesses might make me an excellent employee, even if my home life suffers. I suppose that’s the idea behind “I work too hard”. For example, loyalty. In a free market, I should go to whoever compensates me the best. But I tend to not want to leave people in the lurch and, on a personal level, I hate seeing projects go unfinished.

In one case, that kept me on a Death March for two-and-a-half years, at a salary one-third of what I was offered by interested other parties. Now, that’s a weakness. (There was a lot of other things going on there, though. Stories for another day.)

This brings me to “lazy and easily bored”. There is no doubt I am both. Not that I don’t work hard and focus well–I’ve yet to find any other way to get stuff done–but laziness and boredom shape everything I do. In any problem, I’m looking for a way to do it easier. And once I’ve figured it out, I’m ready for the next problem.

My sensei once referred to me as a perfectionist, which sort of shocked me. I mean, I went through school with A minuses (and even As) where every teacher commented that I didn’t seem to be applying myself.

But in martial arts, and in music, both of which I spent most of my waking hours doing at various points in my life, laziness takes practice, and no matter how much you practice something, it’s never the same thing twice.

Laziness takes practice? Yes, indeed. You know how a gymnast can launch herself into the air like the law of gravity had been revoked, or how Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could be criticized for being lazy (remember that joke in Airplane!?)? Or you’ve seen musicians–particularly classical musicians, since the pop artists tend to put on a little show–just shredding their instruments with just the barest of motion.

There’s a standard you’re trying to reach. When you reach it, you want to be able to reach it again, as eaily and effortlessly as possible. There’s a lot of work behind that. But one of the payoffs of achieving “laziness”, if you will, is that you also get past the boredom: Once you’ve conquered the mechanics, you’re free to bring any particular action alive in a way distinctive to that particular moment in time.

That makes for good music, and it keeps you alive in a fight.

But this is why I consider these my strong points. They’re weak points, as well, unfortunately, when there is hard, dull work and no way around it.

I try to avoid those situations. It’s a bad sign in my business. I do have a few things that fall into that category, mind you, but I never stop looking for a better way.