My Car Two Weeks In

So, just about two weeks ago I purchased a used 2011 Kia Soul as a second vehicle so that my sweetie-wife and I would no longer need to share a single car.

Before going out and buying a used care I did tons of research, looking for a make and model that scored well on reliability, economy, and safety. In addition to those criteria I wanted a small car that would feel cramped for my six foot two inch frame. The data lead me to the Kia Soul and after a few test drives I settled on that make and model.

I can say that after two week I have no second thoughts about my purchase. The car drives well and easily, it handles in a manner that I find both easy to control and fun to drive. Yes, it has a simple four cylinder engine with a four speed transmission, Kia upgraded the transmission with the next year’s model, but I am not interested in a sport car or I would have gone for one of those.

The car had 60,000 miles on it, under the industry average of 12-15 thousand miles per year for American cars, and the results of the mechanical inspection well very good, indicating a car that had been well maintained. I suspect the own before me sold the car off once the 60,000 warranty had expired.

In May I look forward to a drive to Los Angeles when two friends and I, the three of us have not hung together in 30 years, will spend the day at Universal Studios Hollywood.

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Tell, Don’t Show

Wait Bob, isn’t that backwards? Nope, that’s exactly the advices I want to speak about today.

Beginning writers are told, it’s really hammered into their head, Show do not tell. A lot of the time this is really good advice. It takes skill, time, and patience to slow down and show the reader the character, the world, and the important details of the story. Many times if you are a novice at fiction writing you are so energized by the ideas and characters cascading through your head that you do not take that requisite time in crafting scenes and rush to tell the grand glorious tale. In those case the advices, Show, don’t tell is spot on.

But there are other cases, where writers slow down the pacing of otherwise wonderful stories to show every detail of the character’s life and each tiny action in the scene. Here they need to skip the show and just tell us.

So what the yardstick to measure if you show or tell?

Of course there is no one answer, but for me the default is what is the drama of scene? If there are no stakes, no drama, then skip writing it out as a scene and just tell the reader in narrative what happened.

For Example:

 

Bill enjoyed his usual Sunday Brunch. He stopped over at the cafe, consumed his favorite breakfast at a leisurely pace, savoring the late morning decadence Stepping outside, the cool autumn air brushing his hair across his face, the sky blackened with the arrival of the invader’s massive starships.

 

Where is the drama in that bit? Right there at the end when alien invaders arrive. That last sentence will transition from telling into showing as we follow Bill and his now very unusual day. Everything that happened before is set-up and while it can be expanded a bit to illustrate character there is little there we have to experience directly. I could write pages about that brunch. Where he sat, how the smells, sounds and light of the dinner created an atmosphere, his banter with the waiter, even loving descriptions of the food itself, but there is no drama in any of that. A little bit for flavor and mood is great but too much and the reader’s desire, if they possess any left, is to skip ahead to where ‘something happens.’

In many ways this ends up at Elmore Leonard’s advice to writers: “Cut out the parts that people skip.”

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Sunday Night Movie: The Remains of the Day

While the vast majority of the movies I watch on Sunday nights are genre films of one variety or another not everything I watch falls into those fields of Sf, Fantasy, or Horror. The Remains of the Day is one of my favorite films and it is a movie of nothing but quiet dialog. Based on the award winning novel of the same name by Kauzo Ishiguro the story centers on James Stevens the butler of Darlington Hall and it concerns Stevens relationships with his employer Lord Darlington, Steven’s father, and the Hall Housekeep Sara Kenton. This is a story about service, devotion, and repressed emotions.

Stevens is played to perfection by Anthony Hopkins, it is hard to imagine another actor who would be able to convey such volumes of information while his character says nothing about how he truly feels. Steven is a man so driven by his concept of duty he never questions to the actions of his employer, even as Lord Darlington toys dangerously with Fascism during the run up to World War II. Nor is Stevens able to able reveal his deep feeling and affections to Miss Kenton, played by Hopkin’s equal Emma Thompson. This is a love story without first names. There is no rom-com misunderstandings, but instead this is about people trapped by their nature and their culture.

In addition to the already fine actors mentioned the boasts an impressive casting list; Christopher Reeve as an American politician, James Fox as idealistically naive Lord Darlington, Hugh Grant as his godson who has a bit better vision just what is going on, and two future cast members of HBO’s smash hit Game of Thrones, including a much younger Lena Heady is a small part.

From the moment I watched this in the theater this has been a moving film for me, one where I have tremendous empathy for Mr. Stevens and is doomed inability to express himself.

You only live your life once, make sure it is your own.

 

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How to make Hillary President

Oh, the bonfire that is the Trump Presidency burns hotter, fiercer, and larger than I had ever imagined during the election. There is ample cause to suspect that corruption, incompetence, and out right collusion with a hostile foreign power go all the way into the Oval Office.

(Suspect! I hear some of you cry, and Renault remains Shocked to find gambling going on at Rick’s. Nothing has yet been proven so I leave it to you to follow your own noses in tracking the stench that is the Trump operation.)

One thing I think is clear is that the modern GOP is quite unlike that one of the 70’s and they will never remove Trump from office no matter the stink, the mud, and the crime, but there is an election next year and that could change everything.

Now what follows is fanciful but within the realm of possibility and law; as a speculative fiction writer it fun for me to dream up implausible for possible futures.

One: The Democratic Party wins the election taking back the House and the Senate next year. The hill remains steep in the House but Trump is proving disastrously bad as a president and he might sink the GOP’s majority.

Two: The House names Hillary Clinton as their New Speaker of the House. (Nothing in the constitution or the House rules require that the Speak be a sitting representative.

Three: Trump has proven himself corrupt enough that the Democrats impeach and remove him from office.

Four: They follow that up with impeachment of President Pence, provided that they can make those charges stick and given the grime that appears to be swirling around this administration it might be possible.

Five: Hillary Clinton as Speaker of the House become the 47th President of the United States.

Wait, I hear you Bernie supporters screaming about Step two, because after all if anyone can be named Speaker of the House and third in line for the Presidency why not your guy, Sanders?

Quite simply, he’s not the popular vote winner of the last contest and to me that carries weight. However if you want someone other than Hillary I would suggest that you go with someone who meets the requirements for the officer but who would be Constitutionally ineligible to seek a term via the 2020 election, (The 22nd Amendment prevents presidents from being elected to more than two terms.), so they just give the job back to Barak Obama.

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Is This A Dagger …

Well if they stick to their schedule the U.S. House of Representative will vote tonight to repeal the ACA ‘ObamaCare.’ Note that this is a budgetary bill and as such should it survive in the Senate will be immune to filibuster.

As I write this it is uncertain if Paul Ryan has mustered the votes to pass the bill out of the House. To satisfy the more conservative members of the GOP he has recently added even more draconian amendments to a bill that has already been scored by the CBO as pushing up to 14 million people off their health insurance by next year’s off-cycle election.

Now in addition to allowing insurers to charge older patients up to five times the rate of younger patients while slashing subsidies so that their prices sky rocket, this bill now seeks to strip out the essential coverage requirements of the ACA. This is a list f ten essential aspects that all health insurance now must cover, such as drugs.

This amendment stripping the coverage requirements may not survive the senate because it can easily be ruled as beyond the budget and that would open it up to a filibuster. Even if the parliamentarian rules the amendment allowed there are wavering GOP Senators unhappy with the such extreme measures, and the GOP’s vote margin is one vote. (Normally it would be two, but one member is out ill.)

Why add this is it almost certainly cannot pass the Senate?

Because they are facing a pressure that they cannot resist, the Tea Party Base.

For six years the number one target on the Tea Party’s hit list has been the ACA and the GOP has gone along, promising repeal on day one of they reign. There are people who hate the ACA because it is not single payer, there are people who hate the ACA because of limited networks and high costs, there are people who hate the ACA because it forces you to buy insurance, and there are people who hate the ACA because it makes some people pay more in taxes.

Some of these group can be made happy by reforming and adjusting the ACA, but those last two can only be happy with killing it. Amid the GOP no faction has the number to impose their will and many have the number to kill anything they hate. Ryan has been trying to square that circle and to my eyes he’s given up.

He’s going to win over enough of the Tea Party/Freedom Caucus to get the thing off his desk and onto McConnell’s where it will likely die.

If it dies in the Senate McConnell should look out for knives in the back – a grand Senatorial tradition even if this time they will be metaphorical. The conservative GOP Senators, Cruz and the like, will be blaming him and Ryan will be pushing that train with everything he’s got. His only hope is selling the lie that Repeal would have worked if the Senate have gone all wobbly.

This is a trap of their own construction and if millions of lives didn’t hang in the outcome I’d be getting the popcorn.

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CRS – Chronic Rewriting Syndrome

This is not to be confused with the prevalent and related issue of Terminal Rewriting Syndrome(TRS). Those afflicted with TRS rework their prose and poetry, revising, rewriting, and refusing to consider a piece complete until they have wring all life from whatever art that had nearly crafted.

Chronic Rewriting Syndrome, while related, displays itself in different symptomology. Patients afflicted with CRS suffer distress when encountering writing that varies from their own style. Their minds instantly edit and rewrite the prose and product of others, wishing it to conform to their own standards. Afflicted persons can often be heard mumbling out their preferred lines while viewing television and feature film presentations.

There is currently no cure or treatment to alleviate the symptoms.

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Writing Advice you may be Missing

Anyone who reads my postings knows that I love film. Movie have been a part of my life as long as I can literally remember. The advent of home media, first VHS/Betamax, then DVD and Blu-rays has been heaven for the cinephile in me but it has also become a boon to my writing.

A common piece bonus material included in DVS and Blu-ray’s is the commentary track. Here writers, directors, producers, and actors will record a liver running commentary as they watch the film. Sometimes these are funny and filled with behind the antics, or peeks into how the magic of movies works. Those sort of commentary track are fun and I enjoy them, but there are commentary track where the writers and directors will spend the two or so hours talking about the story. What made them want to tell it, what it means to them, and how that approached the challenges.

If you are a writer and you are not listening to these you should. Heavens knows everyone looks at writing and stories from a different point of view, but seeing those points of views can illuminate your own, expand your vistas for crafting a story. These are lectures from professionals and all you need to do is block out a couple of hours – or more in the case of Peter Jackson and his endless Lord or the Rings running times – and soak in the teachings.

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Movie Review: Kong; Skull Island

 

The other day I was speaking with friend who also enjoys movie about Jackson’s remake of King Kong and he commented that he enjoyed the film it got back to New York. Now if you agree with that sentiment then Kong: Skull Island likely right in your wheelhouse.

The movie has the usual first act set up of meeting the characters, providing just enough depth to satisfy the requirements of a major tent-pole action film, and getting the relationships into a rough geography.

With the housework behind them then next two-thirds of the movie is action on Skull Island. Meeting fantastic beasts, being chased by monsters, the thinnest of explanations for why we haven’t seen these giant kaiju monsters before, and then wrapping all up with a message of ecology and humility.

This movie is competently crafted without glaring idiotic errors but that landed the final product, in my opinion, just okay. It was fun and engaging on the surface but it lacked the grip to hold my unbroken attention and my mind wandered.

Now as with all things your mileage may vary and I want to repeat that this is not a bad movie. I am happy I saw it, and the spectacle is enough to justify the big screen viewing. The film does more work establishing the shared cinematic universe to come than it does in servicing its own story and that’s the biggest flaw.

There is a button that follows the end credits but if you want it unspoiled do not read the title card announcing that this film is a work of fiction. (I did read it *sigh*)

Overall a fun film for giant monster fans but I’d keep to the matinee price level.

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Retire This Trope

The other night on Hulu I watched some of the movie Deep Impact. If you haven’t heard of this Earth versus Comet movie it is because it was utterly buried at the box office by that stupidly insulting example of Michael bay’s work, Armageddon. Beside show casing Elijah Wood before The Lord of The Rings, this film was a serious attempt to convey a story about a comet on a collision and the difficulty in diverting it.

Overall this film scores well in its science. It has some concept of the distances and energies involved. In fact the ship dispatched to divert the comet is powered by an Orion drive, something we had considered building; a ship that flies on a series of atomic explosions.

The movie did engage in one of the oldest trope in SF movies, the astronaut who gets separated from the craft and flies off into cold limitless space.

People, this is not the problem Hollywood would have you think it is.

Everything in space is about velocity. Velocity determines the size and period of your orbits. Go fast enough around the Earth and you are in orbit around the planet. Go faster and you may leave the planet but then you are orbiting the sun. Go a hell of a lot faster and you leave the sun’s influence and now you’re orbiting the center of the galaxy.

If you are working over the side on a spaceship lose you grip you may float away, but your velocity did not change all that much. You are still in the same orbit as the ship you left. Yeah it is out of reach but guess what you can move. With just a tiny burp of it orbital thrusters, not its main engines, and they can come and get you. The same is true if that ship is on its way to the moon, or Mars, or even the outer solar system. The difference between your new velocity and your old one, which was the same as the ships, is going to be insignificant compared to the ship’s ability to change its velocity.

But you know, I am starting to get an idea for a story…

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Taxation is NOT theft

A popular concept usually pushed by those on the right side of the political spectrum is that taxation is theft and if they do not go that far they often go far enough to assert that you have no right to the product of another person’s labor. This is usually presented as their case for why any form of socially provided health insurance is not only something that disagree with but something as morally wrong.

I do not buy those arguments.

Theft is the illegal taking, without consent, of property that does not belong to you. Taxation, outside of despotic governments, is a legal process simply on that factor alone it cannot be considered theft however there is more to my counter argument. Without Consent, you consent to taxes by maintaining your citizenship. In a free nation you can leave, in unfree states you cannot. (It would be wise to remember that walls can keep you IN as well as keeping others OUT.) There numerous celebrities who have surrendered their US citizenship. You hate our taxes and what they are being spent on? Leave. Stay and fight for what you want, but if you stay you consent and the taxes are again not theft.

The no right to another person’s labor is usually employed to argue against those who would claim that healthcare is a right. I am not going to get into if healthcare is a right or not, rights are a social construct and invention not found in objective reality so which ones exist and for whom is a very sticky argument.

However those who use the ‘no right to the labor of others’ argument are at best short sighted. ALL rights require enforcement from the state to be protected, for the state to maintain those functions it must tax and that is to acquire the labor of others for the protection if your rights.

You have a right to trail by a jury of your peers? Well that court systems is pricey, and you only have that right because it is being supported by the labor of others.

As I said this is not staking out the position that healthcare is or is not a right, but these arguments against it as nothing more than clever and flippant sound bites devoid of thought or substance.

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